Michael Pascoe: Independents winning even before they run

Independent MPs like Zali Steggall are increasingly being seen as fresh meat among stale politicians, Michael Pascoe writes.

Independent MPs like Zali Steggall are increasingly being seen as fresh meat among stale politicians, Michael Pascoe writes. Photo: Getty/TND

Sunday afternoon should be busier than usual in the Blues Point Hotel.

The McMahons Point pub will be the site of the first North Sydney Independent social – “a quick, once-a-month get together to say hello, catch up, share news and meet new supporters”.

The NSI is one of a string of grassroots groups firing up with hope of “doing a Zali”, finding a strong independent candidate to replicate Zali Steggall winning the Liberal stronghold of Warringah, unseating Tony Abbott.

Further up Sydney’s North Shore, Voices of Mackellar and Mackellar Rising are stirring with the same ambition.

The present Member for North Sydney is Trent Zimmerman.

Mackellar is held by Jason Falinski.

It may be purely coincidental that they suddenly displayed an independent turn of mind themselves, speaking publicly in favour of freeing the Biloela family.

But then again, maybe it’s not coincidental. Former Labor minister Craig Emerson doesn’t seem to think so.

The third seat Dr Emerson classified as vulnerable is Katie Allen’s Higgins in Melbourne.

Dr Allen won the seat comfortably enough in 2019, 54 per cent to 46 two-party preferred, but the combined Labor and Green first-preference vote pipped hers.

From that tight start, three minority parties each scoring fewer than 2000 votes mattered.

The Daily Telegraph reported in April that women were behind new groups looking to take on Jason Falinski “in a move inspired by independent Zali Steggall’s win”.

NSI spokesperson Kristen Lock said her group wanted its own Zali Steggall “who votes for us, not their own party”.

“Trent Zimmerman knows North Sydney is a more progressive electorate than how he votes,” Ms Lock said.

“When he goes to Canberra he votes with Peter Dutton on refugee care and with Angus Taylor on climate action.”

NSI officially launched its search for an independent candidate earlier this month, specifically targeting the government on climate change, the lack of a federal independent commission against corruption, and achieving safety and equality for women.

They are issues that resonate with the growing push for independents around the nation, not just in relatively wealthy and well-educated city seats. The success of Cathy McGowan and Helen Haines in winning the Victorian rural seat of Indi is another marker.

The outbreak of small “l” Liberalism – a species considered threatened, if not on the verge of extinction – over the Biloela family comes after all three had voted loyally with the government to repeal the Medevac bill, an action aimed at depriving asylum seekers access to Australian medical treatment.

As climate campaigner Simon Holmes à Court suggested, even if they don’t win, independents can move opinion.

On the other hand, the cynical might wonder if the weekend’s public support for the family came with a little inside knowledge about where the government was heading on the issue, given Monday’s reports that a favourable announcement is expected on Tuesday.

Politics remains all about winning.

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