From Goldstein to Wentworth with many stops along the way, previous blue and red voters embraced a new colour, a new policy agenda and a new style of politician — professionally qualified beyond all measure.
In 2017, analysis by Fairfax on the makeup of the 45th Parliament showed that nearly half of all Liberal MPs had worked in state and federal politics before being elected and 55% of the Labor caucus came to the parliament from having previously worked as staffers, electorate officers and advisers.
It’s a well-worn path in many established representative democracies, undergraduate in arts, volunteering and then paid work in an electorate office, enter parliament. Ta Da!
While this pathway might make for a good training ground it is highly unrepresentative of the broader community and dangerous in its homogeny. This rise of the ‘political elite’, a group described by German sociologist Max Weber as being not just very active in political circles but also make a living from them has been a contributing factor that spawned anti-establishment and quite extreme movements in the US and Europe.
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With one swift stroke of a tiny pencil, voters all over the nation have now given us a pool of astoundingly accomplished educated professionals with political knowledge but no parliamentary experience. Accident? I think not.
Life experience is electorally appealing. Having a “real job” makes a candidate relatable and although these real jobs of the incoming independents may be just the career dreams of many voters, they are all obviously anti-establishment.
A former managing director and also chair of an impact fund with an economics undergrad from Cambridge is Allegra Spender. Dr Monique Ryan, the head of the neurology department at the Royal Children’s Hospital. A masters of science from Oxford and masters of public health from UNSW, Dr Sophie Scamps.
The CEO of a major charity and public relations expert, Kylea Tink, a highly accomplished senior journalist and bureau chief in Zoe Daniel. And a principle from Boston Consulting Group and director of strategy for Anglicare WA in Kate Chaney.
Honestly, if they were all about to come over for dinner, I’d need a week to prepare conversation notes.
Much can and should be analysed about how extraordinary women are expected to be for electoral success and how this strong theme of educated professionals is in itself an elite group.
For now though, I’m curious about how their backgrounds will lead to the more thoughtful prosecution of a socially progressive legislative agenda.
Here’s hoping the lack of university politics and political intrigue will take the temperature down a notch or too. Imagine a world where a gender lens approach to public spending is an input to the decision-making process and not an analysis done after the event, or where superannuation legislation is pursued without seeing the savings of working people as an ideological plaything. I’m curious to see the thoughtful, process driven approach the independents can encourage to transition our economy as a clean energy powerhouse without the polarising, get-the-gloves-on arguments of previous parliaments.
What our new independents lack in parliamentary experience they well and truly make up for in an understanding of process and an absence of delight in political skirmish.
My hope is that their ability to apply professional process extends to consultation. An awareness that most of the Australian people have not had the education opportunities that they have. And an intention to bring diverse, blue-collar voices to their consideration of reform.
This 47th Parliament could herald a new dawn, and maybe that’s not the continued presence of independents so much as it is the continued presence of people with diverse careers now seeking to be representatives. Bring on the nurses, early childhood educators, dry cleaners and maybe, in the future a professional gamer?
Just make them real, that’s what we want.
This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.