Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 12, 2022

The Big Teal, by Simon Holmes à Court

The Big Teal is a brief account of the strategy behind the rise of the independents in the recent federal election. Clean energy investor Simon Holmes à Court, founder of the crowdfunded Climate 200 community group, relates the epiphany that drew him away from his support for the Liberal Party: it was when Julia Banks (MP for Chisholm 2016-2019) resigned from the Liberal party and became a crossbencher over the issue of Australia’s treatment of children in detention centres for asylum seekers.

I saw how an independent, a crossbencher, free from the ideology of government or the cowed Opposition, could speak the truth on offshore detention.  I saw how the cross bench could operate as both the conscience and the backbone of parliament.  (p. 36)

It is this narrative that independents can be the ‘conscience’ of parliament that lies in part behind the success of the ‘Teal Independents’ at the last federal election.  (The name comes from the colour of some of their branding, but not all of them use blue-green, and not all of them like the tag.) Their success in winning a record number of seats formerly thought to be ‘safe’ Liberal heartlands helped to unseat the former government, and it is suggested—not only in this book but also in multiple post-election analyses—that they represent a gloomy future for the Liberals who will find it hard to win those seats back again.

In The Big Teal. Holmes à Court tells the story of his belief that independent MPs could achieve things that elude the major parties.  He explains his own activities as a clean energy investor, and his early unsuccessful attempts to groom Josh Frydenberg (the former MP for Kooyong) as a champion within his party on climate change. (He was also Federal Treasurer and touted as a future PM until defeated by Teal independent Monique Ryan). The best part of the book is the incisive analysis of how political funding and donations distort the democratic process, along with a salute to pioneering independents like Cathy McGowan and the revelations about Josh Frydenberg’s behind-the-scenes machinations.

In lauding the crossbenchers supporting Climate 200, the book does not mention other crossbenchers, some of whom are problematic and some of whom have been in parliament a long time without achieving their stated policies.  It is hard to imagine some of them being the ‘conscience’ of parliament, or its ‘backbone’:

It’s fair enough that these are not mentioned in The Big Teal since Climate 200 did not support any of these MPs and Holmes à Court only mentions outcomes that crossbenchers could achieve.  But the integrity, performance and voting record of these MPs is relevant to any conclusion that can be drawn about crossbenchers in general.

It’s common ground that the Teals’ shared policy platform on three crucial issues was a vote-winner in their conservative seats.  Backed by Climate 200, they pledged action on climate change, support for an independent anti-corruption integrity commission and reform in the treatment and safety of women and girls.  Not discussed in adequate detail in the book, is that though they share ambitions on climate change, the Teals differ from the Greens in a significant way.  FWIW the Greens have a uniform policy platform, and though their voting record on climate change is dubious, and their rogue senator seems intent on sabotaging the referendum on the Voice to Parliament, the Greens’ other ambitions are socially progressive.  Despite their party base consisting mainly of high socio-economic status inner-city voters, the Greens, according to Wikipedia, claim four core values, namely ecological sustainability, social justice, grassroots democracy, and peace and non-violence.  In practice, for example, they advocate for taxation reform to reduce social inequity; they are active in supporting the LGBTIQ+ community and they are opposed to so-called religious freedom that allows discrimination and vilification.

The Teals OTOH are not a political party and they have only three common core policy objectives  i.e. the high profile issues of climate change and integrity on both of which the former government was intransigent; and the treatment and safety of women on which the former government had a tin ear. And while these Teal MPs differ from each other, and some may be more progressive in some policy areas than others, it’s a pretty safe bet that their conservative electorates would vote them out quick smart if they started advocating for income redistribution; reform of the housing-as-wealth-creation market; an end to the obscene levels of funding for private schools; or anything that affected investment portfolios or favourable tax regimes for the wealthy.

The Big Teal is a useful contribution to our understanding of the changes in our political landscape since the election in May. Our media landscape is fraught and blatantly partisan, and as the book explains, the Murdoch media was hostile to Climate 200 from the start.  People who read this book can compare Holmes à Court’s version of events with how it was portrayed in the media and make a judgement about the quality of the media they are consuming.


However, with a state election coming up on November 26th, this little book from the In the National Interest Series (Monash University Publishing) could have been more instructive than it is.  There are ‘teal’ candidates standing for election.  At the time this post was written, Climate 200 is backing four women running as independents, in conservative seats:

  • Melissa Lowe, who is running for Hawthorn
  • Sophie Torney, who is running for Kew
  • Nomi Kaltmann, who is running for Caulfield
  • Dr Kate Lardner, who is running for Mornington

If these conservative seats fall and the state Opposition is forced into root-and-branch policy and preselection reform, that will be a good thing.  But if voter disenchantment with major parties spreads the ‘Teal wave’ further afield without voters understanding what other policies a miscellany of independents are actually offering, they may actually be voting against their own best interests.  Worse, perhaps, is that parliaments risk being unable to reconcile multiple competing interests and becoming ungovernable as our parliament was in its earliest years. Already there are ominous signs of this happening in the Upper House. Disenchantment with major parties whose policies are upfront and accessible confers a responsibility to find out about what alternative representation is offering.


Truth be told, all our political parties are a disappointment for progressives.  Anyone who’s lived through a few changes of government has learned that the compromises that are inevitable in government can be good or bad.  Conservatives don’t achieve everything they want, thank goodness, and progressives miss out, which is unfortunate if you’re voting for a fairer society, a more sustainable environment, and an independent foreign policy.  All voters can do is at least to know what they’re voting for.

Transparency statement: Although I don’t live in her electorate, I donated to the campaign for Teal independent Monique Ryan in Kooyong. Her website lists policy priorities that I support too, but I note that her priority ‘Equality, Safety and Respect for Women’ does not specifically mention First Nations women; ‘Health Care’ does not mention the collapse of bulk billing; and there is no mention of inequity in education at all. Fair enough, she’s responding to issues raised in her electorate, one of the most privileged postcodes in our state…

Author: Simon Holmes à Court
Title: The Big Teal
Series: In the National Interest
Publisher: Monash University Publishing, 2022
ISBN: 9781922633569, pbk., French flaps, 89 pages
Source: Personal library, purchased from Benn’s Books Bentleigh, $19.95

 


Responses

  1. I’ve put this on my reserve list at the library.

    Like

    • LOL I’ll bet there’s not ever going to be a review of it in the Murdoch press…

      Like

  2. I don’t have much time for wishy washy ‘liberals’, especially when they vote against labour reform as they did this week. But I admit that in the pre-neo Con days the old Liberals got administrative stuff done relatively honestly. With the right wing/religious extremist rubbish now dominating the Libs, the Teals must be an improvement.

    And they get up Murdoch’s nose as seen by the dishonest nonsense about Teal donations in the gutter press this week.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, I agree. I supported Ryan because I wanted to see the back of Frydenberg, but as I say, these Teals are not progressives. They’re just common sense on climate change and integrity.
      The problem is that the Teals are most likely to lead a rout against the small-l Liberals leaving the Extremist Right behind in the safest of safe seats. Since I hold the view that most governments need a rest on the backbenches every three or four elections to smarten themselves up, it makes it difficult for that to happen if the Opposition aren’t a viable proposition. As in Victoria at the moment.

      Liked by 1 person


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