A wave of independent candidates running on climate action and transparency rocked the federal election – causing major upsets for the Liberal Party in the process.
Kylea Tink, Sophie Scamps, Zoe Daniel, Monique Ryan and Allegra Spender all unseated Liberals in what’s been named the ‘teal wave’, after the colour most of them campaigned in. They will join incumbent independents Zali Steggall and Helen Haines in Parliament.
At the top of their agendas when they head to Canberra: A federal ICAC, followed by a stronger emissions reduction target.
These so-called ‘teal independents’ ran grassroots campaigns, but were also backed by the Climate 200 machine which challenged the Liberal Party on the issue of climate action.
In the blue-ribbon seat of North Sydney, Ms Tink toppled moderate Liberal Trent Zimmerman.
“Trent Zimmerman is a good man and a nice guy, and he really shared his values with the electorate,” Ms Tink told The New Daily.
“But when you look at his voting record in Canberra, you would never have known that.”
When Josh Frydenberg came onscreen at Ms Tink’s election night event, the packed room fell silent.
As Mr Frydenberg conceeded the swing against him was bad but it was still “mathematically possible” to win on postal votes, the room of Sydneysiders let out cackles and cheers.
Such is the camaraderie between these grassroots but loosely affiliated candidates around the country.
Mr Frydenberg lost the seat of Kooyong to Dr Monique Ryan, director of the neurology department at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne.
Elsewhere in Melbourne, former ABC journalist and The New Daily columnist Zoe Daniel won the seat of Goldstein from Liberal Tim Wilson.
“This moment is a testament to the strength of our democracy,” Ms Daniel said after becoming the first non-Liberal to ever hold the seat.
One of the biggest upsets, however, was Dr Sophie Scamps in the Sydney Northern Beaches seat of Mackellar – until now held by Jason Falinski and, before him, Bronwyn Bishop.
Compared to the other teal victories, her win was seen as more of a long shot.
“We started this a couple of years ago, sitting down around kitchen tables talking to people about what was important to them and what solutions they’d like to see,” Dr Scamps told TND.
“We knew that there was very broad support across the electorate and we just helped tapped into that feeling.”
The seat of Wentworth was another teal victory.
It was once held by Malcolm Turnbull, until independent Kerryn Phelps won at a by-election. However, the seat returned to the Liberal Party when Dave Sharma was elected in 2019.
On Saturday night, Mr Sharma was defeated by businesswoman Allegra Spender.
She called her victory “an act of defiance against the status quo, defiance against the cynicism.”
A sixth Climate 200-backed newcomer, Kate Chaney, has also been tipped to win Julie Bishop’s old seat of Curtin in Western Australia from Liberal backbencher Celia Hammond, according to the ABC and Nine News.
“The Liberal Party is unlikely to feel entitled to this seat again,” Ms Chaney told her supporters on Saturday night.
Meanwhile, in Tony Abbott’s former seat of Warringah, former Olympian Zali Steggall fended off controversial Liberal challenger Katherine Deves to keep the seat in independent hands.
Some have credited Ms Steggall, along with former Indi MP Cathy McGowan, with spearheading the movement of grassroots-backed, pro-climate action independents.
Movements from the grassroots
Outgoing Goldstein MP Tim Wilson blamed his loss to Ms Daniel on a coordinated campaign against him.
“What we’ve seen is an unholy alliance come together – GetUp, Extinction Rebellion, the Labor Party, the Greens, all abandoning their traditional stance to back a former ABC journalist,” he told the ABC.
“And when you aggregate everything, about $3 million for campaign support, for one objective: to remove me from Parliament and to remove Goldstein from Liberal hands.”
But the ‘teal independents’ and their supporters paint a different picture.
Comedian and self-styled “investigative humorist” Dan Ilic crowdfunded tens of thousands of dollars to target key Liberal and National Party figures through the power of satire and memes.
His aim was to help the most viable pro-environment candidates to victory in each of those seats – many of whom were ‘teal independents’.
Mr Ilic said the independent candidates’ victories were the result of people from different backgrounds coming together to call for tougher climate action, among other things.
“I always believed in miracles, and it’s so exciting to see a miracle tonight that Australians believe in climate action, and voted accordingly,” he told TND from Ms Spender’s campaign event in Bondi.
He added that he was glad to see a Labor victory and hopes the ‘teal independents’, plus the Greens, will push the new government to take even stronger action on climate change.
A shift from the major parties
The ‘teal’ wave was just one story from a night where voters rebuked not only the Coalition government, but in some cases the major parties in general.
Not only did the Greens see a positive swing and pick up the Queensland seat of Ryan, but there was one other non-teal independent who won against the major parties.
In the Western Sydney seat of Fowler, former councillor Dai Le won over Kristina Keneally.
Ms Le, a former deputy mayor, is a local of Sydney’s multicultural south-western suburbs. She immigrated to Australia as a refugee from Vietnam at the age of 11.
Ms Keneally was parachuted into the seat by Labor, despite living more than 40km away on Scotland Island in the Northern Beaches.
Even before her victory was certain, Ms Le told 2GB that her campaign sent the major parties a strong message.
She added: “I believe we have won in shaking the whole party system out here.”