How one cohort of candidates completely changed the course of Australian politics


Independent candidate Zoe Daniel celebrates during a reception for the 2022 Federal Election, Saturday, May 21, 2022. (AAP Image/Joel Carrett)

As much as this election is a story shunning Scott Morrison, it’s also a story about the rise of strong, savvy and professional women.

A story that began with Brittany Higgins and Chanel Contos and Grace Tame, and was carried on by their big sisters last night — among them a group of independent candidates, all professional women, who drove incumbent moderate Liberals out of the party’s blue-ribbon city seats.

The names will soon become familiar: Zoe Daniel in Goldstein, Allegra Spender in Wentworth, Kylea Tink in North Sydney, Sophie Scamps in Mackellar and Monique Ryan in Kooyong.

Other names will soon register regularly too, particularly on the government’s side of the benches — women like Labor’s Tania Lawrence who won in Hasluck, and Zaneta Mascarenhas who becomes the first woman elected in the seat of Swan. Blokes might have led both big parties, but it was another woman — Katherine Deves — who delivered one of the many own goals for the Liberals.

Of course, there were swings all over the place and trends bucked like in the Tasmanian seat of Bass, which the Liberals held with Bridget Archer — the first politician to win reelection in that seat in two decades. But she had the same brand of politics as the winning moderates, and regularly spoke up and out against her less moderate boss.

The views espoused by the teal independents and other moderates reflect the need for the Liberal Party to take a damn good look at itself this morning — particularly over issues like an integrity commission and protections for transgender students.

These women — medical specialists and architects and small businesswomen — will soon to take their place in Parliament. And it comes on the back of speaking directly about progressive issues.

No doubt exists in their views about climate change. They articulated that. Or the need for the integrity commission we will now get. In a nutshell, their victories highlight the need for politicians to stay in touch with voters.

“I think gender is clearly a factor in this,” Liberal Senate leader Simon Birmingham said early last night. “It’s a real challenge for us.”

He was spot-on. But it runs beyond that. This is a message to both parties, but particularly the brand of politics that saw a campaign where the leader ran around visiting factories, talking tough, and declaring he’d be less like a “bulldozer”.

Their potential influence is enormous, and those on the side of the Treasury benches will join others like Tanya Plibersek and Penny Wong. (Kristina Keneally will miss out, and on the latest counting Terri Butler will too.) Their bargaining position will be enhanced by both their wins and the clear way they have articulated the issues upon which they campaigned.

Their story will also run beyond what happens when Parliament resumes. Already, they’ve sent a powerful message that the Liberal Party needs to forge a new natural constituency. And that presents the party with a significant challenge.

Just consider how this will begin to play out today, over the leadership of the Liberal Party.

Josh Frydenberg would have been a popular replacement. The problem is he won’t be there. And already, today, the talk is all turning to Peter Dutton, a consummate campaigner who keeps beating talented ALP candidates, against the odds, to hold his own seat of Dickson.

But here’s the problem. Dutton shares Morrison’s brand of politics. He is bold and brazen and brash, and voters this weekend warned the party it did not want that. In fact, it voted with arms and feet against that.

“There’s a huge task ahead,” Birmingham said. And his self-reflection was disarming and honest. He said he had to accept responsibility too: to acknowledge what happened, to take some of that blame, and to work out “how to appeal to these voters who we should not have lost”.

Is Peter Dutton able to do that? He might be the stand-out candidate today. But is he the right candidate to forge the party’s new constituency? Is he able to negotiate? To reconsider his views and win back those moderate Liberal voters who have cost the party victory?

The “teal bath”, as it has been tagged, is the headline story of the federal election. But the role of women — teal, red or green — looks set to be its ongoing story.

This article was first published by Crikey.


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