Earlier this year, following a string of attacks on women in the Australian Parliament House in Canberra, both verbal and physical, a popular female TV host asked rhetorically whether the easiest place in the country to rape a woman is in Parliament House.
Now, a group of independent female candidates are looking to batter down parliament’s doors at the next federal election, to be held sometime between March and May 2022.
At least 13 female candidates, not aligned to a political party, have launched campaigns, mostly in seats where they would be taking on senior Liberal MPs.
While they are not aligned to one another, they are all campaigning on similar policies: to take action on climate change, to introduce a federal anti-corruption watchdog, and to rid Parliament House of a culture that abuses women.
Jo Dyer, a friend and advocate of a woman who accused the then-attorney-general of raping her when they were teenagers and who has since taken her own life, has also announced she’ll be running as an independent in the South Australian seat of Boothby, currently held by the Liberals on a margin of just 1.4 percent.
In a video shared to her followers online, Dyer said she has been involved in a campaign for women’s justice and that she had “experienced first-hand the way this government has treated that broad sweeping campaign as just another political problem preferably to be ignored, and if not ignored, managed.”
She added that citizens have been “let down by our government” due to “captive sectional interests.”
In Victoria, Claire Boardman, the deputy public health commander for infection and prevention and control in the Victorian Department of Health announced earlier this month that she’d be running against Health Minister and senior Liberal, Greg Hunt. In addition to inaction on climate change, Boardman has been critical of the federal government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Another senior Liberal under pressure is Treasurer and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party Josh Frydenberg. He is facing a high-profile challenge in the Victorian seat of Kooyong from Professor Monique Ryan. Director of the department of neurology at the Melbourne Royal Children’s Hospital, Ryan told the Age newspaper that people in the community have a visceral antipathy to the government.
“We feel a great sense of anxiety about climate change, dissatisfaction with the general demeanor of the government and we feel dissatisfied with their attitude to women, with their attitude to the issues that we see as important as a community,” she said.
Just south of Kooyong, in Goldstein, former high-profile ABC journalist, Zoe Daniel, has also announced that she’ll be running as an independent in 2022.
“As someone who has worked around the world, who has seen the disintegration of one of the world’s great democracies, I feel that we are really stuck right now in our two-party system,” she said.
Daniel is running in the safe Liberal seat of Goldstein against current MP, Tim Smith. She has flagged lack of integrity in government, climate and safety for women in the workplace as reasons for contesting the election.
A majority of seats being contested by independents are in New South Wales, where much of the election will be fought.
In Wentworth, one of Australia’s most affluent suburbs, Allegra Spender, daughter of late Australian fashion icon Carla Zampatti and former Liberal MP, John Spender, is running against Liberal MP and former ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma.
Spender, who is the CEO of Australian Business Community Network, said she decided to run after the federal government’s failure to deal with the climate crisis embarrassed the country at the Glasgow Climate summit last month.
“We are not doing enough on climate and that is having a big impact on our economy and our environmental future. It was really watching COP26 and just realizing that Scott Morrison and the team were never going to get there,” she said. “It is the next 10 years that are really going to make a difference, both for the economy but also for the climate.”
Another senior Liberal MP being challenged is Angus Taylor, minister for industry, energy and emissions reduction, by Independent Penny Ackery in the seat of Hume. Ackery told the ABC the rise of Independents is “a movement to shake up democracy.”
The Sydney seat of Hughes is currently held by the United Australia Party’s (UAP) Craig Kelly, who defected from the Liberals earlier this year after the party criticized him for posting COVID-19 and vaccine related misinformation online. Mining magnate Clive Palmer, founder and bankroller of the UAP, has previously admitted that he will use his party and its finances to ensure the Liberals get re-elected rather than attempting to win seats for his own party.
Running against the UAP in Hughes is Independent Georgia Steele. In a video posted to her Facebook page announcing her candidacy, Steele said she’s “a lawyer, a very concerned citizen and an active member of the community of Hughes.”
“I won’t just sit here while our kids grow up with climate vandals leading the country and politicians bend even further to the extreme-right. That’s why I’m asking you to elect me to parliament,” she said.
Other high-profile, Liberal-held Sydney seats being challenged by independent female candidates include North Sydney, Mackellar and Robertson. In North Sydney, the incumbent Liberal, Trent Zimmerman, will be challenged by a former charities CEO, Kylea Tink.
In Mackellar, local doctor Sophie Scamps is running against incumbent Liberal Jason Falinski. Scamps told the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper that in 2020, Falinski did a letterbox drop containing a list of issues and that she was shocked that climate change action was not on that list.
“That was in February 2020, so a lot of people were upset. There was still smoke thick in the air from the bushfires,” she said.
In the seat of Robertson, the incumbent Liberal MP, Lucy Wicks, faces a challenge from Dr Vania Holt, who has decades of experience in the legal arena, including five years as a Public Prosecutor.
Holt said Wicks has consistently voted against the wishes of her constituents by siding with the conservative hardliners in the party.
“She can either cross the floor and oppose the Morrison/Joyce government, or she can resign and make way for a local member who will represent the concerns of local people,” she said.
If any of the women are elected, they will be joining independent female MP’s Zali Steggall, who took the seat of Warringah from former Liberal Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2019 and Helen Haines who took the seat of Indi.
While the women contesting the Liberal seats are not aligned and most lack political experience, something that binds them is they are all campaigning on climate action, a federal integrity commission, and women’s rights, all topics that have dominated the news cycle in Australia over the last 12 months.
Another thing that binds them is that they have all supported the Liberal Party in the past but now feel that the party has lost its way and that voters will be looking for an alternative. Early next year, we’ll learn whether they are that alternative.