Australian Economy

Could Australia have a ‘teal independent’ as PM? Climate 200 thinks so

Climate 200 executive director Byron Fay at the National Press Club in Canberra. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Could Australia elect a ‘teal’ independent as a future prime minister? It’s all down to community support according to the head of the Climate 200 movement that delivered a major shake-up to Australia’s political status-quo at the recent federal election.

In a speech to the National Press Club on Wednesday, executive director of the Climate 200 group, Byron Fay, said the “sky’s the limit” for the next steps of the movement, after it supported the election of an unprecedented number of independent candidates to the federal parliament in May.

“Where this movement goes is entirely up to the community. We’ve seen that communities around the country have been very eager to embrace this new form of political representation,” Fay said.

“They love it and the community leaders that got are going to be incredible MPs and an incredible Senator, up in parliament.

“So we would not be surprised if this is a launchpad, not a landing zone for the moment.”

The Climate 200 group raised $13 million in funds from around 11,200 donors, which was used to support the campaign of more than 20 independent candidates that campaigned on policies for stronger climate action, restoring integrity in politics and improving gender equality.

Climate 200’s support included strategic planning, the commissioning of polling, preparing marketing materials as well as directly co-funding candidate’s campaigns.

“One thing we realised very early on, was if voters were educated about who the candidates were, and what they stood for, they wanted to vote for them. So we’ve set out to do our best to bring these outstanding community leaders to voters attention,” Fay said.

“Our talented team of creatives made 16 podcast episodes, 87 videos and 1,300 social media ads to supplement the efforts of these incredible campaigns.

“The messages and stories we produce amplified the voices of the candidates, their volunteers, their voters and social media influencers,” Fay added.

The effort culminated in the addition of climate-minded independents that included Allegra Spender, Kylea Tink, Sophie Scamps, Monique Ryan, Zoe Daniel and senator David Pocock, as well as supporting the re-election of incumbent independents like Zali Steggall, Helen Haines and Rebekha Sharkie.

At the same time, the movement ousted several high-profile members of a Coalition government that had long dragged its feet on climate action, including treasurer Josh Frydenberg and assistant energy minister Tim Wilson, contributing to the demise of the Morrison government.

Fay attributed the electoral failures of the Coalition MPs to an obvious disengagement on their part, from the communities they claimed to represent.

“They stopped listening to their communities. We could see it and this is the thing that was very confusing to us,” Fay told the Press Club.

“You had Liberal MPs out there saying: ‘my community doesn’t really care about climate, they don’t really care about integrity, they don’t really care about gender equity.’

“And we were doing the polling when we could see that was untrue.

“Actually, the communities absolutely care about the most important voting issue in all these electorates on election day was climate change.”

Fay – who previously served as an Australian climate change negotiator – said the movement had been driven by community demand, as well as the need for a group capable of competing with the resources of major parties when it came to contesting elections.

Fay said the movement was only just getting started and that the potential for the group to support state election candidates, with elections in both New South Wales and Victoria due within the next 12 months – or even the election of an independent prime minister – would all come down to community demand.

“The first thing to know is that our model is very much demand driven. So this all starts with the community itself,” Fay said.

“If the community judges their elected representatives to not be performing the way that they would like them to, to not be showing the leadership they would like them to, particularly when it comes questions of climate integrity and gender equity – and they start to mobilise – that’s the key threshold point.

“If people [in States] start to get mobilised start to start to speak to their friends and colleagues and start to get together to have a different type of community leadership, then that’s a discussion we will be willing to have.”

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