Key Coalition-held seats will be targeted by a wave of independent campaigns at the next federal election, with the aim of achieving stronger action on climate change.
Previously, at the 2013 federal election, independent Cathy McGowan led a successful grassroots campaign to oust Sophie Mirabella in Indi, and climate action was a cornerstone of her platform.
In 2019, Winter Olympian Zali Steggall led an independent campaign that hinged on climate action to win the seat of Warringah from Tony Abbott.
These victories have spawned similar campaigns like Voices of North Sydney and Voices of Kooyong, as well as other nationwide efforts that will focus on multiple key electorates.
A day after the government announced its net-zero target, the Smart Energy Council – Australia’s peak body for solar power and electricity storage – kicked off a campaign to target a handful of government-held electorates around the country.
“There are some ardently, stridently anti-renewables members of the National Party and the Liberal Party, and we will be targeting them,” CEO John Grimes told The New Daily.
“And there are a number of moderate Liberals who have – consistently – lost the debate internally, who have voted time and again to actually roll back and attack our industry, and we will be targeting them too.”
The plan is to hold town halls, take out advertising, and otherwise raise awareness in a “ruthless” campaign against the government.
Mr Grimes cited seats such as Kooyong and Higgins in Melbourne, and Mackellar and Wentworth in Sydney, among others.
One of those “moderate Liberals” is North Sydney MP Trent Zimmerman.
After the 2019-20 bushfire season, North Sydney architect and urban planner Rod Simpson felt frustrated by politicians who he felt were ignoring the science of climate change.
Inspired by the campaigns in Indi and Warringah, he and his partner launched the Voices of North Sydney group, which is working to oust Mr Zimmerman.
Mr Simpson said after he conducted research that found the “vast majority” of the electorate wanted stronger action on climate change, Mr Zimmerman responded by lecturing him about the ins and outs of the Westminster system of representative democracy.
“That’s first-class 18th-century thinking,” Mr Simpson told TND.
“We’ve actually got the technology, techniques and communication channels to do things quite differently to people getting to London on horseback.”
Although Voices of North Sydney won’t explicitly endorse a candidate, it’s hoping to foster the democratic process through ‘kitchen table talks’ and advocacy, which organisers hope will see Mr Zimmerman voted out.
It’s a similar story in Energy Minister Angus Taylor’s electorate of Hume.
Moss Vale pilot Alex Murphy felt disaffected after the last federal election.
While he was off work during the lockdowns of 2020, he turned his energy to political organising by founding a group called Vote Angus Out.
“Our primary intention is in the name,” Mr Murphy told TND.
Climate change is a key issue for the movement, but it’s one of many, including transparency and accountability, both of which are recurring themes for grassroots movements around Australia.
It helps that they’re trying to unseat a cabinet member, Mr Murphy said, and after raising more than $60,000 so far, the group plans on plastering the electorate with advertising in time for the next election.
“We’ve got a nice big target,” Mr Murphy said.
Vote Angus Out has collaborated with another group, Voices of Hume.
But not all ‘Voices of’ groups are adversarial towards sitting MPs.
Voices of Mackellar president Leonie Scarlett told TND that her aim is to be a “conduit” for locals to air their opinions, rather than to take down sitting MP Jason Falinski.
Nevertheless, the group’s research found that stronger climate action was the leading concern among the people they surveyed, and that will potentially be reflected at the polls.
Comedian Dan Ilic is also running a non-partisan campaign for climate action in key electorates around the country.
After his fundraiser for a satirical climate change billboard outside the COP26 summit in Glasgow far exceeded its target by more than $200,000, Mr Ilic decided to use the leftover cash to fund billboards in Barnaby Joyce’s electorate of New England, and Josh Frydenberg’s electorate of Kooyong, among others.
“For over a decade, this government has been delaying, destroying, dismantling, destructing any kind of climate action,” he previously told TND.
These electorates weren’t just chosen because of their high-profile MPs.
According to The Age, recent polling by Climate 200 found that an independent similar to Ms McGowan or Ms Steggall could receive more first preference votes than Mr Frydenberg in Kooyong.
Such grassroots, climate-savvy candidates would do well in other electorates too, the polling found.
After funding candidates like Dr Helen Haines (who succeeded Ms McGowan in Indi) and Dr Kerryn Phelps at the last election, Climate 200 is now looking to bankroll a fresh batch of independents at the coming election.
The end result is pressure on sitting MPs from a wide selection of groups, and climate action is one of their largest shared concerns.
Mr Grimes from the solar peak body said this new game plan was inspired by the mining industry’s tactics.
His plan for the government is clear: “Unless we make it electorally untenable for them to continue with this charade that’s holding back our economic future, they’re not going to shift.”