What happens if there is a hung parliament: how would independents approach talks and what is non-negotiable?

Less than two weeks out from election day, the prospect of a hung parliament remains very real.

Such an eventuality would thrust successful independent and crossbench MPs into the spotlight as kingmakers, much as it did in 2010.

But how would crossbench and independent lower house MPs approach negotiations with the major parties?

What policy commitments would they seek, what would be non-negotiable, and how would they approach the negotiation process itself?

Guardian Australia surveyed 13 prominent independent candidates and sitting crossbench MPs about how they would approach such negotiations if elected. Each was asked the following questions:

  • What would the starting point be for your negotiations? Would you prioritise early talks with the party that won the most seats?

  • Would any decision on who you support be influenced by who is leading the Liberal or National parties?

  • What would be the most important policy issues for you in negotiations?

  • Are there any non-negotiable policy commitments you would demand from the major parties before giving them your support?

  • Would promises by the major parties to spend on projects in your electorate influence your decision on who to support?

  • Would you seek any commitments made by the major parties to be codified or formalised through something more than a verbal agreement?

  • Would the voting history of your electorate influence your decision on which party to support?

  • Are there any other considerations that would be important to you in this process?

Here are their responses in full.

Kate Chaney, independent for Curtin

What would the starting point be for your negotiations? Would you prioritise early talks with the party that won the most seats?

I would prioritise early talks with the party that won the most seats.

Would any decision on who you support be influenced by who is leading the Liberal or National parties?

It is up to each party to decide which leader best represents their values. I would be willing to work with whoever is leading the parties.

What would be the most important policy issues for you in negotiations?

Integrity and climate.

Are there any non-negotiable policy commitments you would demand from the major parties before giving them your support?

We need an anti-corruption commission with teeth. Climate is a bit more complex – I would like to see a target in line with the science, a governance structure that de-politicises decarbonisation, a phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies and a clear path to meeting appropriate targets. There would be a range of approaches available to address these issues.

Independent Kate Chaney with volunteers in the electorate of Curtin in Western Australia.
‘It is about the people of Curtin’: independent Kate Chaney with campaign volunteers in the electorate of Curtin in Western Australia. Photograph: David Dare Parker/The Guardian

Would promises by the major parties to spend on projects in your electorate influence your decision on who to support?

No. Our federal government needs to be allocating funding according to need and objective criteria, not for political purposes. As a previously safe seat, there has been an under-investment of federal money in Curtin and I would advocate for worthy projects in my electorate.

But most importantly, I would advocate for a fair and transparent system, where projects are assessed against objective and disclosed criteria across the country. I think Curtin residents (and all Australians) are appalled at the amount of taxpayers’ money that is spent on pork-barrelling.

Would you seek any commitments made by the major parties to be codified or formalised through something more than a verbal agreement?

Possibly. This would be part of the negotiations.

Would the voting history of your electorate influence your decision on which party to support?

It would certainly be a factor that I would take into consideration, but the decision would also be driven by the priorities on which I’d been elected.

Are there any other considerations that would be important to you in this process?

As an independent, it’s quite simple. My duty is to the voters of Curtin and ensuring that they are represented in our parliament. I won’t have a duty to secret donors, party factions, Coalition partners or unions. It’s about the Curtin community – and the people of Curtin are telling me they want to see the major parties held to account.

Claire Ferres Miles, independent for Casey

What would the starting point be for your negotiations? Would you prioritise early talks with the party that won the most seats?

In a balance of power situation (a hung parliament) my actions will be driven by my values together with my assessment of each major parties’ alignment to and commitment to deliver, without delay, the four priority issues the people of Casey have told me matter to you:

  • Immediate, meaningful, and effective action on climate change.

  • A federal Icac to deliver a better standard of politics, restoring transparency, accountability, and integrity.

  • Equity, diversity, and inclusion across society based on shared values and behaviours

  • A national resilience plan so we are prepared, ready to response and recover from more frequent extreme weather events.

Claire Ferres Miles
Independent candidate for Casey in Melbourne’s south-east Claire Ferres Miles says she ‘will not be dictated to by a party’. Photograph: Supplied by Claire Ferres Miles

Would any decision on who you support be influenced by who is leading the Liberal or National parties?

No. As an independent I am not aligned to any political party. I am party agnostic. I have never been a member of a political party. I will work with any member of parliament irrespective of their party who want to deliver the same priorities as the people of Casey.

What would be the most important policy issues for you in negotiations?

As answered above – action on climate change, delivery without delay [of] a federal Icac, equity and inclusion and a national resilience plan, the four priority policies that I have heard matter to the people of Casey.

Are there any non-negotiable policy commitments you would demand from the major parties before giving them your support?

None of the major parties have a sufficiently ambitious policy on climate change action, with a need to increase their targets for 2030 to a minimum of 50% emissions reduction or higher, aligned with the Business Council of Australia.

Would promises by the major parties to spend on projects in your electorate influence your decision on who to support?

No. All public funding decisions need to be based on agreed transparent publicly reported funding criteria, with evidence-based decisions of the highest probity and independent peer review to determine highest public value. Stewardship of public money require the highest integrity and rigour, agnostic of electoral boundaries and alignment or not to select political parties.

Would you seek any commitments made by the major parties to be codified or formalised through something more than a verbal agreement?

All commitments made must be formally written down, signed and transparently reported to the public.

Would the voting history of your electorate influence your decision on which party to support?

No. As an independent I am not aligned to any political party. I am party agnostic. I have never been a member of a political party. I will work with any member of parliament, irrespective of their party, who want to deliver the same priorities as the people of Casey.

Are there any other considerations that would be important to you in this process?

I work for the people of Casey, not the parties. I have no political allegiances and I am not aligned to any interest groups – only the people of Casey. I have never been a member of a political party. I am standing to get things done, to deliver for Casey. As an independent I am not aligned with nor controlled by any political party. As an independent MP I will listen to the voices of the people of Casey, to represent the interests of Casey each and every day. I will always vote for the people of Casey. My vote in Canberra will not be dictated to by a party. By choosing to vote for an independent, the electorate of Casey is wanting someone to bring an independent mind to each issue, and not follow a party ideology.

Sophie Scamps, independent candidate for Mackellar, launches her campaign in Avalon, Sydney.
Sophie Scamps, independent candidate for Mackellar, launches her campaign in Avalon, Sydney. Photograph: supplied by Sophie Scamps.

Sophie Scamps, independent for Mackellar

The issues that my electorate have identified as being most important at this election are meaningful climate action, including setting a minimum 50% 2030 emissions reduction target and legislating Australia’s 2050 net zero target. My community have also told me that a federal anti-corruption commission with teeth, support for small business and Australians dealing with rising cost of living pressures, and improved public health and mental health services are also important issues that need to be tackled by the next parliament.

The major parties have not released all their policies. More importantly, Australians in Mackellar and across the country have yet to vote. Those are the first and most important steps to determine who forms our next government. If required, I will enter into any negotiation in good faith, aiming to secure an outcome that reflects the values of Mackellar voters and the best interests of the country.

Allegra Spender, independent for Wentworth

On each piece of legislation, I’ll consult with the community, not a party room, before voting. In Australia, federal government has always been best when it has operated from the centre. I will negotiate for a sensible, responsible, centrist government.

Those negotiations will depend on a couple of things. First, it will depend on the overall composition of parliament – that is, how many seats each party has won. Second, it will depend on what each party says about the issues my community cares the most about.

In those negotiations, I will get the best deal for the people of Wentworth. The community has been clear to me about what that looks like: strong climate action, a federal integrity commission, and a future-focused economy.

This is about the policies, not the people. I am happy to work with anyone to get the best deal for the people of Wentworth.

Zali Steggall, independent for Warringah

I have worked collaboratively with both the government and opposition over the last three years and will continue to do so, no matter who forms government.

The actual outcome of the election is an important factor, and I will vote on each bill on its merits, including supply bills. When it comes to the numbers, I acknowledge that the outcome of the election will be important – that is, how many seats each party obtains in both the House of Representatives and the Senate and the ability of each party to pass legislation in both chambers.

I would of course be talking to both sides about all issues but in particular the key policy areas that I have taken to the people of Warringah.

If my community re-elects me, then clearly they trust me to represent them and prioritise key policies of climate and environment, integrity and fiscal discipline. If we end up with a hung parliament, that’s an indictment on the major parties failing to put forward adequate policies on these issues.

I want to see good policy, and for good long-term policy you actually need a bi-partisan collaborative approach, but at the federal level all we see is gamesmanship and attempts to wedge the other side, and I think I represent a lot of people in the community who are really tired of old party politics and are turning to independents.

At the end of the day Scott Morrison has had three years as prime minister, and he has failed to deliver action on climate change, he has failed to deliver the federal integrity commission he promised at the last election, and he has overseen way too many rorts when it comes to spending of public money.

Rebekha Sharkie, federal MP for Mayo

My allegiance is to the community of Mayo, not to any major party or movement. Throughout my two terms in Parliament, I have been the Switzerland of the Parliament and built constructive relationships with both the Government and the Opposition.

I have had no discussions with either party regarding any perspective deals to form Government.

Regardless of whether Labor or Liberal wins the upcoming Federal Election, I will continue to vote on each piece of legislation on its merit. If a Bill is good for Mayo, I will vote in its favour. If it is not, I will not.

Throughout this campaign, I have been transparent and clear about my priorities for Mayo. Specifically:

  • Long-term water security for the Murray Darling Basin

  • Urgent introduction of a Federal ICAC with teeth

  • Real action on climate change

  • A comprehensive national housing plan

  • Increased federal funding for healthcare in Mayo

  • And the full delivery of recommendations in the Aged Care Royal Commission.

These issues should not be partisan, and I would expect strong commitments pertaining to these priorities before I could lend support to any party in the event of a hung parliament.

Ultimately, my decision-making will be guided by the community as it always has been.

Helen Haines, independent for Indi

Deciding how to approach a potential balance of power situation involves weighing up a series of hypothetical questions, assumptions and variables, all of which I am considering carefully as we approach the election.

Every election, every electorate chooses a representative to go to parliament to make decisions on behalf of their community based on their values and their policies, and in that sense I am no different.

If I am re-elected as the independent federal member for Indi, and neither of the major parties won enough seats to form majority government, I would start by sitting down with the leaders of both the major parties to discuss the issues that matter to the people of Indi. I believe I would first sit down with the party that has won the most seats at the election.

The issues that are important to the people of Indi are clear: a robust federal integrity commission that stamps out corruption in politics, real action on climate change that brings opportunity and investment into the regions, and proper investment in regional health and mental healthcare.

A commitment to legislate the Australian Federal Integrity Commission as soon as possible would be a commitment I would require in return for my support, but it would not be my only consideration.

A robust federal integrity commission is a priority for more than eight out of 10 Australians.

I would never sell my ability to vote on every piece of legislation as it comes before the House in return for local spending promises. I would never give up my right to vote in the interests of Indi every time.

At this election, where more communities are seeking to make their voices heard through seeking Independent representation, it is vital that politicians and the media listen to the message these communities are sending. No electorate “belongs” to any party or any MP, it is for the people to give, and for candidates to earn their trust and their votes and to represent the electorate.

Adam Bandt, Greens leader and member for Melbourne

In balance of power, the Greens will kick the Liberals out and push the next government to act on the climate crisis and the inequality crisis. We don’t want to see the Liberals return with a new leader, we want them gone.

Greens leader Adam Bandt, and independents Rebekha Sharkie, Helen Haines, Bob Katter and Andrew Wilkie call for an anti-corruption watchdog at a media conference at Parliament House in 2020.
Greens leader Adam Bandt, and independents Rebekha Sharkie, Helen Haines, Bob Katter and Andrew Wilkie call for an anti-corruption watchdog at a media conference at Parliament House in 2020. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Our key climate demand will be for the next Labor government to stop opening new coal and gas mines. You can’t put the fire out while pouring petrol on it, but Labor and Liberal both back 114 new coal and gas projects across the country, which is criminal.

We will also push the next government to get dental and mental health into Medicare, build 1m affordable homes people can rent for 25% of their income or buy for $300,000, lift income support, wipe student debt and make childcare free. Revenue can be raised by making billionaires and big corporations pay their fair share of tax.

As to the form of any understanding, we will enter any discussions with open minds and strong principles, but we expect Labor’s desire to open new coal and gas mines in a climate emergency to be the area we’ll have to push the hardest.

Kylea Tink, independent for North Sydney

If I’m elected, I would be open to working with both parties to see who would provide the best deal on the issues most important to the North Sydney community, such as urgent action on climate, the economy, integrity and equality for all.

Andrew Wilkie, independent for Clark

I’m an independent MP and don’t favour any political party.

In the event that neither major party win a majority of seats at the election, I will not do any formal deals and instead decide every issue on its merits, including questions of confidence and supply to any particular party.

What constitutes merit is the sum of many considerations including the views of the community and my conscience.

Any decisions I need to make immediately after the election will be done so as soon as possible.

Zoe Daniel, independent for Goldstein

As I have repeatedly stated, I would stand ready to enter discussions with either of the men who would be in a position to become prime minister. I will not nominate who I would support before the voters have even delivered their verdict.

Negotiation means exactly that: negotiation. The major parties know exactly where I stand on climate, integrity and gender equality. If my community elects me based on those pillars, it would be for the leaders of the major parties to engage based on those priorities. Scott Morrison changed his mind on an integrity commission after the last election.

Who knows? He might change his mind again after the election if the prime ministership is at stake.

Kooyong independent candidate Monique Ryan.
‘My commitment is to the people of Kooyong, not any party, donor or lobbyist,’ says Kooyong independent candidate Monique Ryan. Photograph: James Ross/AAP

Monique Ryan, independent for Kooyong

In the event of a hung parliament, I will work with all parties to secure an outcome that aligns with the values of the Kooyong community on which I was elected.

My vote will always be independent, informed by expert evidence and the views and values of my Kooyong community. My commitment is to the people of Kooyong, not any party, donor or lobbyist.

Note: Bob Katter, a sitting crossbench MP, did not respond.