In the next federal election there will be more independent candidates than we have ever had, and many have an excellent chance of succeeding. My focus will be on my former electorate of Goldstein, named after the pioneering Australian feminist Vida Goldstein.
Goldstein’s most impressive independent candidate is Zoe Daniel, the ex-ABC reporter. I have long admired Daniel’s objectivity and insights. A sincere listener, she neither talks over people nor seeks a conclusion that she might anticipate. I believe that she will enrich the quality of federal Parliament because she will listen to the electorate and represent its views on important issues in Canberra. That is crucial to the functioning of our democracy.
That used to be the way that our system functioned. But for decades now both Labor and its “faceless men’ and the Victorian Liberal Party machine have sought to impose its views on candidates.
Few branches of any political party have many members and there is little discussion in electorates about issues of importance to them. This is especially the case with the demise of local newspapers.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
When I was in Parliament, I had meetings with councillors and citizens on matters that involved local issues but which were subject to federal consideration. Sometimes issues were raised at high schools, aged care homes, and Rotary, RSL and sports clubs.
After a redistribution of the boundaries of the electorate of Balaclava, the electorate of Goldstein was created on November 30, 1984. Interestingly that change occurred when I was shadow minister for foreign affairs and also for the status of women.
I worked closely with minister Susan Ryan when she prepared the Sex Discrimination Bill, which I voted for when the rest of the opposition opposed it.
From the age of 10 I had been influenced by Eileen Furley, a dear friend of my parents, who had worked with Menzies to form the Liberal Party.
I gained insights into the feminist movement from her. Not surprisingly I married a feminist, and my wife Julie and Eve Mahlab formed the Liberal Feminist Network. Vida Goldstein would have been proud of the work that they did and sad that it did not continue after the party removed me.
With her vast experience in the media and on so many issues around the world, Daniel is ideal for the evolving, challenging task as member for Goldstein. Moreover, she will provide leadership in Parliament to set an example of how MPs should be committed to the interests of their constituents and not to the commercial forces which fund the major parties.
Daniel understands what Barry Jones has said about the digital revolution. A national treasure, Jones is almost 90 but continues to write books and deliver lectures of a special calibre. In his 2020 publication What Is To Be Done: Political Engagement and Saving the Planet, Jones laments the fact that it has provided vehicles for the spread of “misinformation on an epic scale”.
He adds that “governments rely on spin doctors to craft explanations for every failed policy. The hollowing out of experience in government departments and the ever greater reliance on ministerial staff to develop politically calibrated policy has weakened political accountability.”
Jones adds, realistically but sadly: “In public affairs in the age of spin, with enormous power generated by modern communications techniques and through social media every proposition can be targeted to millions of people, taking account of their fears, prejudices, desires, ambitions and dislikes, even hatred.”
Jones is also correct in asserting that “ministers and members shout at each other and look for cheap applause because they have no wish to debate public issues and have only two preoccupations: personal career advancement and winning the next election”, And in his book Sleepers Wake, Barry wrote: “In the digital age, opinion has become more than evidence.” Needless to say, I agree with him completely.
Daniel can be a leader who will do all that she can to return our federal Parliament to a democratic institution.
I am sure that she would work with the Greens to help them persuade Parliament to adopt progressive policies on climate change and refugees — but she would also try to persuade as many independents as possible to work on the implementation of constructive policies on other vital issues.
It was grassroots distrust in the major parties that led to the formation of Voices of Goldstein. It has been conducting many kitchen-table conversations across the electorate and the major concerns that have been raised will be pursued by Daniel if she is elected.
To win voter confidence, Daniel has released an excellent statement of policies that stem from these immediate personal discussions throughout the electorate. It is important for Australia that we return to the democratic process, and the election of Zoe Daniel will help advance that return.