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Michael Pascoe: The Liberals face being engulfed by a rising tide of independents

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No, the “Teals” don’t have the balance of power and the usual suspects in mainstream media will continue to give wildly disproportionate coverage to Liberal members of the opposition, but it is still early days in the Independents Revolution.

Labor having the numbers to govern in its own right and the Liberal Party reviving Abbott Total Opposition mode might give the appearance of federal politics as usual.

It’s not. That perception only papers over the extent of genuine political revolution that occurred on May 21.

On Monday night Four Corners will give viewers another look at how politics can be, featuring intelligent, articulate people who haven’t fought and backstabbed their way up the greasy polls of factional party machines to land long-sought seats in Parliament.

Other than those steadfastly devoted to the major parties – and there are fewer and fewer of them – people tend to like what they see

The army of volunteers that landed the independents’ victories remains energised by the experience and happy to spread the independent gospel to other seats with a demonstrably successful format. More community independent candidates will come hunting at the next election for targets on both sides of politics.

The extent of damage to the Liberal Party is only partly told by the seats lost, by the traditional party of the wealthy no longer representing the country’s wealthiest (and best educated) electorates.

A quick scan of the Australian Electoral Commission site shows only two metropolitan Liberal seats did not have to go to preferences and they were somewhat special cases – Scott Morrison in Cook and Alex Hawke in Mitchell.

Mr Morrison’s first preference vote dropped 8.2 per cent to 55.5. Whoever replaces him – if the ex-PM can find another job – will be unlikely to fair as well.

Alex Hawke’s first preference vote fell 9.4 per cent. But with no community independent running against him in Sydney’s conservative Hills district, he still garnered 52.6 per cent of first choices. A strong independent candidate would change that.

In what was long the Liberal’s safest metropolitan seat, Bradfield, Paul Fletcher hung on but suffered the biggest first-preferences fall of all, a swing of 15.3 per cent to be the first choice of just 45 per cent of electors.

The community independents army will be back working hard in Bradfield next time. They won’t have Scott Morrison helping them, but Peter Dutton isn’t signalling anything that appeals to the people who dumped the Liberal Party three months ago.

Victoria and NSW next

They are not waiting for three years though. Having been awoken, community groups will be trying their hand in the November Victorian and March New South Wales state elections, riding dissatisfaction with the main political tribes there.

Michelle Grattan on Friday reported the various scandals at the state level were political manna for the community independents movement.

“The public hate such shenanigans and, as happened with the federal election, community independents will make integrity and the quest for a better kind of politics a core part of their campaigns,” Ms Grattan wrote.

Her colour may be salmon rather than teal, but Kylea Tink’s win North Sydney was one of the first victories for a new wave of independent candidates. Photo: Zac Crellin

“Last weekend former Indi independent Cathy McGowan ran an online post-federal election convention to promote community independents. It attracted 467 participants from more than 100 federal electorates, and the discussion groups included one on each of the two state elections.”

The federal election showed the targeted seats make the Teals policy priorities for them, the areas of greatest dissatisfaction or disgust with the incumbent party becomes the independent platform.

Thus the Liberal Party’s failure on climate, integrity and inclusion became the Teals’ core policies – that was what the communities wanted.

The same factors won the election for Labor, with a side of Scott Morrison’s personal failure with women voters.

In three years’ time, the next wave of Teals and the rejuvenated Greens will feed on any community dissatisfaction with the Labor government. That won’t let the remaining Liberal members off the hook.

The big problem for the Liberal Party now will be that it is seen to be irrelevant.  If “moderate” Liberals lost their seats because they weren’t having impact on the government, Liberals in opposition may have even less to offer if Labor doesn’t stuff up.

Look at me! Look at me!

As previously opined, Peter Dutton’s decision to make a stunt of refusing to attend the jobs and skills summit feeds such a perception. History gets made by those who turn up.

Hence, we’re witnessing some extraordinary efforts by Liberal members desperate to be noticed when they have no policies.

Predictably, Coalition-aligned or simply lazy media have been happy to play along with quite meaningless pronouncements.

It’s early to call it, but a strong entry for peak media myrmidon performance was the lead story in Friday’s Australian.

Senator Jim Molan, a mere backbencher trying to generate some publicity for himself with a letter to the National Press Club calling on it to ban Chinese government representatives, might be worth a satirical mention in one of the gossip columns, but the Australian considered it the most important story in the world yesterday. Oh dear.

Such efforts won’t turn the Teal tide. It’s still rising.

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