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After signage loss, it’s time for majors partys to put up a noble fight in war of independents

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After a Thursday court victory ensured supporters can proudly hoist her campaign flag, independent challenger for Goldstein, Zoe Daniel, says major parties must now stop vilifying hundreds of thousands of voters in Australia.

Bayside City Council, which regulates political advertising locally, mounted an extraordinary attempt to ban the display of Ms Daniel’s campaign material.

Her Goldstein opponent, Liberal MP Tim Wilson, used his parliamentary correspondence to argue the signs were illegal,  and encouraged neighbours to dob in those guilty of violations to cop a $1000 fine.

The court’s overrule had been widely expected by experts, who had argued it had adopted a “strange” interpretation of state-based planning bylaws.

“Our supporters can now feel free: who could ever have predicted this to be an issue in our campaign for federal parliament?” Ms Daniel told The New Daily on Thursday.

Mr Wilson even insinuated some of his electors were “lawbreakers”, and encouraged other residents to dob them in to him personally.

Goldstein has been in Liberal hands since its inception – despite a major swing at the last election the party sits on a two-party-preferred margin of nearly 58 per cent.

But senior Liberals are now tipping the seat to fall, not even mostly because of the sitting member’s “mystifying” support for a move to impose criminal sanctions on electors in the affluent areas but also under the strength of the campaign run by Ms Daniel, who is on the vanguard of a new electoral politics.

That Mr Wilson ever took such an unlikely yet provocative tack has become a widely used example of the depth of the party’s fears.

And he is joined around the country.

Prominent examples of seats facing independent challenge have recently focused on Bronwyn Bishop’s old seat of Mackellar in North Sydney and Josh Frydenberg’s seat of Kooyong. Colleagues say that increasing and irregular outbursts from Dave Sharma show how tenuous his hold on Bennelong is.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is facing a challenge from independent Monique Ryan in Kooyong.

But the weekend’s state election in South Australia was yet another reminder, if it were needed, that the groundswell is growing nationally.

Independents had an unusually prominent role in last weekend’s election due to a number of government MPs moving to parliament’s cross-bench at the beginning of the most recent term.

But as counting continues in seats such as Inniss, where Lou Nicholson continues to hold on to a win-making swing of 17.5 per cent, experts say a greater threat to Liberals from independents is now all but assured.

That has particular implications for several seats but particularly Boothby, the federal marginal Liberal seat which will face a spirited challenge from Jo Dyer. Rebekha Sharkie, the crossbench MP currently representing the blue-blood seat of Mayo, is proof such shifts can happen and that the ingredients for their rise have long been observable.

Political scientists say the growing share of the independent vote in recent decades can be explained by a range of factors, including disengagement from political parties, a growing proportion of the electorate deciding who to vote for as they drive to the polling booth, and also the end of a compelling reformist era in national politics.

The successful showing of the independent challengers so far has inspired criticism, particularly from outlets linked to News Corporation.

Some such stories have gone close to alleging that the independents are a convenient decentralised cover for a grouping of Labor-aligned independents seeking to sneak into parliament under false pretences.

The presence of former staffers from Labor and the activist group GetUp in a company used by some for campaign services has been cited as further evidence that the independents are in fact aligned.

But University of South Australia Professor Rob Manwaring takes precisely the opposite view. He argues that fissures between moderate and right-wing factions within South Australian Liberals also present federally have weakened the party, but also created openings on policy  that are especially apt to be exploited by independent moderates.

“This is not about politics as we know it,” says Zoe Daniel, who is contesting the seat of Goldstein, held by Tim Wilson. Photo: TND

For her part, Ms Daniel, a former ABC journalist who says she voted for Liberal Malcolm Turnbull in 2016 before dropping her support for him over his failure to progress economic and environmental reform, says the movement owes nothing to any party.

“This is not about politics as we know it,” she said.

She also notes that because independents have no organisational or financial support around them, they begin at a massive electoral disadvantage.

Sharing ideas and broader fundraising structures makes sense, she said.

But she stressed that the overwhelming majority of contributions to her campaign come from local individuals, and her policy platform reflects issues that have been of pressing concern to local people.

While Ms Daniel agrees that some former Liberals are disillusioned by  the failure to combat climate change and install a federal anti-corruption watchdog, she believes her platform follows no party line.

“I have absolutely no tilt toward either party whatsoever,” she said.

“People are not looking for me to be a political representative, it’s about having someone who listens and who advocates for them.”

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