Simon Holmes à Court co-founded Climate 200, an initiative to support progressive independents which saw six teals, as they have become known, elected at the last Federal election. It has since been turning its attention to State elections. I spoke to Simon on Friday morning.
Fitz: Simon, I confess my surprise. I thought the teals were going to take their stunning form in the Federal election right into the Victorian election and take at least four seats. But right now you’ve got – dot three, carry one, subtract two – none. So, is it fair to say that rumours of the death of the teal movement, at least in Victoria, have not been greatly exaggerated?
Climate 200 founder Simon Holmes a Court.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
SHaC: (Five second pause.) Parliament and pundits deal in binaries: win or lose. But we were really encouraged that in Victoria there were six independent women who came within a couple of per cent of winning. The movement in metropolitan Melbourne is less than a year old, and in most cases got within a few hundred votes of toppling members of a 78-year-old party. Plus, Victoria gives very significant public funding to incumbents – The Age says about $100 million over the last four years – but nothing to challengers.
Fitz: Yup. But in the Fair Dinkum Department can you say out loud our results were deeply disappointing?
SHaC: It would have been incredible if two, three, four or five independents got up, but they didn’t. So yeah, it’s disappointing.
Fitz: Does it show that, without a really unpopular conservative figure like Scott Morrison in the leadership role to concentrate the minds and loosen the wallet of your progressive followers, it’s much harder going?
Former prime minister Scott Morrison.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
SHaC: It’s certainly a lot harder. In the Federal electorates where indies won, there was palpable disgust with Morrison and frustration with his government’s failures on climate, integrity and women. Plenty of people don’t love Dan Andrews or Matthew Guy, but neither leader motivated communities like the prospect of another three years of Morrison-Joyce government. And to the Victorian Liberals’ credit, they got the memo after the Federal election. Just a few years ago they opposed Victorian Labor’s climate targets, and entertained the Nationals’ plans to build a new coal power station in the Latrobe Valley. Fast forward to 2022 and, just weeks after the Libs were smashed at the Federal election, the state Libs got some “Matt Kean religion” and matched Labor on climate. Labor responded by further upping their targets. I credit the success of the independents in May with changing the whole debate.
Fitz: You turned the Vic Libs into “virtue signallers”! More seriously, your critics portray you as a louche layabout spending your father’s billions to destroy democracy by pushing your puerile politics on the people. Now I suspect that might be a tad ... overstated, but what is your day job anyway? Is there a place where you turn up for work on a Monday morning and say, “Good morning, boss?”
SHaC: Well, as to my critics, I offer the Franklin Delano Roosevelt quote, “I ask you to judge me by the enemies I’ve made”. As to the rest, Climate 200 has taken all my time and more for the last 18 months.
Fitz: Do you draw a salary from Climate 200? And if not, what pays your bills?
SHaC: It’s a non-profit and I don’t take a salary, I cover my costs from investments, including from my business I sold five years ago. People often confuse me with Climate 200. Sure, I started it, but I’m just one of its 11,200 donors. Of the $13 million raised, my wife and I have contributed 2 per cent. Climate 200 backs independent candidates running strong community campaigns that share our values of action on climate change, integrity and the treatment of women.
Fitz: Meantime, one of your main critics was Josh Frydenberg who, before the Federal election I quoted in this very space, saying, “Everything Simon Holmes a Court says after ‘hello’ should be treated with deep scepticism. I think he’s a coward who puts everyone else’s name on the ballot box except his”. So, why don’t you put your name on the ballot box?
SHaC: Well, firstly, I don’t think Parliament needs another ageing white male sitting on the benches. But also I’ve watched the independents we’ve endorsed now cut such impressive figures in Parliament, and I know I don’t have the skills to do what they do, but I do have the skills to do what I do, which is help grow this democracy movement. And that’s a pretty asinine comment of Frydenberg, the idea that every person who wants change should be sitting in Parliament. I love what Grace Tame said on QandA on Thursday: “You get more done on the outside, lighting fires up the arses of these guys.”
Fitz: There remains the charge the teal independents are not independent at all, and you are the de facto party leader.
SHaC: I have a policy of not talking to the independents about policy. I’ve never had any form of agreement with any of them. If I called them up and said, “Hey, I’d like you to do this or that for me”, they’d tell me to get stuffed. They were selected by their communities, and ran their own campaigns. We didn’t. Parties have processes to choose candidates and they give them a set of policies and they tell them how to vote. There’s none of that in the community independents movement.
Fitz: And yet at the launch of Margot Saville’s book The Teal Revolution on Wednesday evening at Gleebooks, one of the audience got warm applause when she said, “The teals have changed the world, so why don’t they keep changing the world, form a party, and go hard!”
SHaC: I have absolutely zero interest in starting a party, and no candidate I respect would want to join! The community independents don’t have to keep one arm free to fight internal party battles. They’re loyal solely to their communities, freed from loyalties to factions, branches and the party. There’s a direct line between the independents and their communities, and that’s it. It’s a much more pure form of democracy, and we end up with better representation from better quality representatives, demonstrably.
Former treasurer Josh Frydenberg. Credit:Getty
Fitz: Okay, on to the NSW election. When I interviewed you six months before the federal election I asked whose seats you thought the teals could claim. You named Dave Sharma, Trent Zimmerman, Jason Falinski, Greg Hunt, Tim Wilson, and Josh Frydenberg. All of them are now gone, and only Greg Hunt went of his own volition. So, let me ask you again, four months out from the NSW election, who is at risk from the teals?
SHaC: Firstly, Climate 200 didn’t target those individuals. People in those communities came together and decided they wanted better representation. We helped turbocharge the best campaigns in the most winnable seats.
Fitz: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But who is at risk from you in NSW?
SHaC: Well, I can say that our polling shows that in the state seats that sit under the federal electorates that are now teal, there is an extremely strong desire for community independents. Manly just announced a candidate two weeks ago and we understand that three or four more will be announced in the next fortnight. It’s quite likely that we will support a number of those, and it could be as many as seven by the time the election comes around.
Fitz: Which seats?
The Member for Wentworth Allegra Spender.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
SHaC: My Sydney geography is not super strong, but you can start with the swathe of seats that go from Lane Cove to Pittwater.
Fitz: What about in Allegra Spender territory of the eastern suburbs?
SHaC: We are still gathering information, getting to understand what the communities are doing in those places.
Fitz: What’s the war chest you hope to have?
SHaC: Well, in NSW, we are limited to $3300 as our maximum donation. So, our job is to excite enough of our 11,200 donors to donate so that the independents we endorse at the state election can run competitive campaigns.
Fitz: So you don’t gather donations and distribute as you did federally, you get the donors to give directly?
Fitz: It seems that, on the geography you have presented, the candidates that you will likely endorse, all risk taking down Liberal seats!
SHaC: There may also be a Nationals seat or two in play, and in Victoria, we supported a candidate running in a Labor seat. It’s too early to say whether there’ll be any Labor seats that are going to have community campaigns in New South Wales. But this community movement puts immense pressure on any politician or any political party that doesn’t care about the things the Australian public resoundingly showed they cared about in May, which is climate, integrity, and the treatment and safety of women.
Fitz: But if this works the way you want it to work and the way it worked at the federal election, there is no way around it: you are doing Labor’s heavy lifting.
SHaC: If the Liberal Party gets a backbone on climate, and both major parties join in a race to the top, we’ll have done a large part of our job. But the more I’m exposed to the community independents movement the more I see its important role in improving our democracy.
Fitz: Thanks for your time.
Beryl: “How much is 5Q plus5Q?“
Beryl: “You’re welcome!”
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