politics

The independent women vying to topple the government.

There’s been something brewing in Federal politics over the past 12 months. From Senator Sarah Hanson-Young furiously calling out sexist remarks in the chamber, to Liberal MP Julia Banks’ defection to the crossbench, female MPs seem to leaning back – and hard – against the notoriously macho, testosterone-fuelled environment of our Parliament.

Their frustration, their determination, is born from what is a pretty desperate situation. In 2018, Australia slipped to the 50th spot on global rankings of female parliamentary representation – 35 places lower than where we sat in 1999.

Yes, we are actually regressing.

But this election year, a cohort of women is seeking to push parliament forward. Tellingly, they’re doing so by standing as independents. Away from gender-quotas, debates about “merit”, away from factional favouritism, away from being muffled by party policy.

They’re entering politics (and, they hope, parliament) on their own terms. But first they’ve got to topple some of the biggest names in politics.

Julia Banks

Julia Banks’ decision to quit the Liberal Party in November was one of the biggest political stories of 2018. In a stinging address to the House of Representatives, the Member for Chisholm pointed to the lack of female representation in parliament and disrespect shown to women by their colleagues on Capital Hill.

“This is more than a numbers game. Across both major parties the level of regard and respect for women in politics is years behind the business world,” she told the chamber.

“To those who say politics is not for the fainthearted and that women have to ‘toughen up’, I say this: the hallmark characteristics of the Australian woman – and I’ve met thousands of them … are resilience and a strong authentic independent spirit.”

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This week, Banks confirmed she’ll stand in the Victorian seat of Flinders, which has been held for the past 18 years by current Finance Minister Greg Hunt. The former lawyer will campaign on climate change and clean energy.

“I realised that everything I’ve stood and fought for my entire adult life intersects with this moment in time in Australia,” she said in a statement. “I’ve decided I’m staying in this race.

“It’s important that the people of Flinders are not taken for granted and have a strong independent representative who listens, gives it their all and takes pride in being their voice.”

Susan Moylan-Coombs

Susan Moylan-Coombs is a proud Gurindji and Woolwonga woman running for the New South Wales seat of Warringah. Yes, as in Tony Abbott’s electorate. As well as claiming the seat, she hopes to attain the position of Special Envoy for Indigenous Affairs – a position (controversially) awarded to Abbott after the August 2018 Liberal leadership spill.

A member of the stolen generation, Susan was adopted by the Coombs family at the age of three; a family with a notable public service clout. Her adoptive grandfather – and mentor – was high profile public servant and prime ministerial adviser H.C. Coombs, and her father John Coombs QC was the president of the NSW Bar Association.

The broadcaster and mental health educator is putting the environment and Indigenous rights at the centre of her campaign, and will also be calling for improvements to aged care and mental health services.

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“I come from a family with a strong socially conscious background, and as Warringah’s representative I will act in the best interests of resident and their unique local environment,” she said in a December statement announcing her candidacy.

“I am ready to help repair the negative state of affairs resulting from Australia’s personality politics, where our representatives are serving themselves before the people.”

Zali Steggall

From the slopes to politics. Zali in 1998. Image: Getty.

Also gunning for Warringah is former champion skier Zali Steggall. The Manly-born woman claimed Australia's first individual medal at the Winter Olympics in 1994, a victory credited with the establishment of a multi-million dollar, government-funded winter sports training program. (We've since won a further 14 medals, including five gold.)

Zali obtained a law degree after retiring from the slopes, and since 2008 she has worked as a barrister specialising in sport and family law. She has also been appointed to the International Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Now turning to politics, her platforms stand firmly in what she calls "the sensible centre", among them climate strategy, transport, healthcare and promoting a business-friendly economy. And, as she told The Sydney Morning Herald, she's "in it to win it".

"I want to beat Tony Abbott, who has been a handbrake on Australian progress on many fronts but particularly effective action on climate change," she said.

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"I know what I am getting into but I am not a wallflower - I am tough," she said, announcing her candidacy. "I learnt from sport that you have to put the work in, and can’t just turn up on the day hoping for the result. I will do the work for this, just as I did the work for sport and law."

Alice Thompson

And yet another for Warringah... (Brace yourself, Tony). Alice Thompson is a former KPMG executive who served as Malcolm Turnbull's adviser on infrastructure and cities. She's got degrees in environmental science and population studies, along with a Masters in international law and international relations, and specialises in complex economic issues like congestion, urban growth and development.

In a tweet confirming her run, Alice wrote that she was “not just doing this to stop Tony’s mission to be leader of the Liberals and prime minister, I’m running because I have good ideas for Warringah and the nation and a track record of getting things done in government for the public interest."

She's promising voters: more infrastructure; better transport; growth for local business, enterprise and the economy; action on climate change and clean energy; and rebuilding trust in government.

"If the polls are right, we face an incoming Labor government. An independent will be far more influential in negotiating outcomes for Warringah than Tony Abbott sitting in opposition," she wrote on her website.

"This is a time for substance, not celebrity. Don’t just make a protest, make your vote count."

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