Escalating Coalition criticism of the ‘Voices Of’ independent movement is “attacking democracy”, one of the drive’s key supporters has claimed, as yet more senior ministers complain about its growing traction.
Several independent candidates have also laughed off “desperate” attacks from the highest levels of government, including accusations the challengers are “Labor/Greens puppets” and members of the “hard left”.
“The Liberal Party has lost touch with the community so badly that they don’t recognise a sensible centrist when one shows up and speaks her mind,” Kylea Tink, challenging Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman in North Sydney, told The New Daily.
It came after the strongest blast of the movement yet, when Health Minister Greg Hunt on Sunday described the Voices Of push as “the hard core of the hard left”.
“Many of them are to the left of not just the Labor Party, but to the left of the Greens,” he claimed.
Simon Holmes a Court, whose Climate 200 group plans to support up to 20 independent candidates, rubbished the growing criticisms from Mr Hunt, Scott Morrison, Josh Frydenberg and Barnaby Joyce.
“It’s interesting there’s a lot of different attacks from the government. They’re still trying to find out how to categorise the movement,” he told TND.
“A large percentage of people I talk to are lapsed Liberals. If they tell lapsed Liberals this is a Greens or Labor effort, that doubles their effort. I hope the government keeps going. It helps us.”
Numerous independent candidates, many supported by ‘Voices Of’ groups in their local areas, are taking on established Liberal MPs in blue-ribbon city seats at the coming election.
Drawing inspiration from former Indi MP Cathy McGowan and Zali Steggall’s 2019 campaign that unseated Tony Abbott in Warringah, many of the independent candidates share common traits: Professionally successful women taking on moderate Liberal men, campaigning for stronger climate and integrity action, and blue-green campaign branding.
Candidates are also drawing hundreds of volunteers and supporters to campaign launches.
With a string of independent candidates recently announced in Liberal seats like Kooyong, Wentworth, Goldstein and Mackellar – plus winning back Warringah from Ms Steggall being a key Coalition target – the government has rapidly escalated criticism of the Voices movement in the last week.
Mr Hunt’s rebuke came on the same day that Mr Joyce, in an opinion piece for The Australian, slammed the Voices movement as “simpleton, selfish politics” and warned of “chaos” if too many were elected.
In November, Liberal MP Tim Wilson called his independent challenger Zoe Daniel a “Labor/Greens puppet”.
On Friday, Prime Minister Morrison described the movement as “Voices Of Labor and the Greens”.
Three times in one answer, he complained it was being bankrolled by “big money” and a “big financial crowd”.
Mr Morrison didn’t elaborate, but Mr Holmes a Court – a climate activist, investor and son of billionaire businessman Robert Holmes a Court – has made recent headlines with plans to raise millions of dollars to support select independents.
He told TND his Climate 200 group, a take on Mr Frydenberg’s Kooyong 200 fundraising group, had raised about $6 million from 6400 donors already.
Mr Holmes a Court said he was unsurprised at the growing government criticism, but pushed back on criticisms about “big money”.
“They’re scrambling to find a way of attacking democracy. This is a democratic revival,” he said.
“At the last election, Clive Palmer spent $89 million … I never heard anyone from the Liberals complain about that.
“This is actually very small, in relative terms.”
The government’s growing criticism of the Voices Of movement has also touched on the fact independent candidates are only running against incumbent Coalition MPs, not Labor.
Many Voices candidates will campaign for stronger action on climate change and integrity measures – issues where the Coalition has weaker policies and goals than Labor.
“Are Barnaby Joyce & the Nationals worried independents will bring back stability & probity to govt & policy making, disrupting the chaos they like to cause?” Ms Steggall tweeted on Sunday, after Mr Joyce’s criticisms.
Professor Monique Ryan, director of neurology at Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital, will challenge Mr Frydenberg in Kooyong. She was scathing of Mr Hunt’s comments.
“I would like to be amused, but as a doctor I am appalled at this coming from a health minister who continues to accommodate the misleading, anti-scientific propaganda of George Christensen, not just on vaccination, but also on climate,” she told TND.
“It is yet another reminder how out of touch with the concerns and interests of mainstream Australians the Liberal party has become.”
Ms Tink echoed similar criticism.
“This is desperate,” she said.
“I haven’t changed, the Liberals have. By allowing Barnaby Joyce to dictate the little he will allow on climate change, they are out of touch with the mainstream views and aspirations of the North Sydney community.”
Dr Sophie Scamps, challenging Jason Falinski in Mackellar, said her stance on climate was “consistent” with policies from leading industry groups which the Liberal Party usually respects.
“I’m not sure even Greg Hunt would describe the Business Council of Australia or the National Farmers Federation as the ‘hard core of the hard left’,” she told TND.
Despite the Coalition claiming the movement is a “front” for Labor or the Greens, most of the independent candidates say they’ve never been a member of any political party, and some have links to the Liberals.
Ms Daniel, a former ABC journalist and former TND columnist, said she had voted for her opponent, Mr Wilson, in 2016.
Allegra Spender, taking on Dave Sharma in Wentworth, is the daughter of former Liberal MP John Spender.
Mr Holmes a Court said he was unsurprised the Voices campaigns largely came from Coalition seats.
“They’re growing out of frustration at the representation they’re getting. I’m not surprised people in non-government seats aren’t energised enough to start a campaign,” he said.
“This is a movement from the centre. It’s spot fires of people who are pi–ed off. If Labor was in power, I’m sure this movement would be targeting Labor seats. They’re pushing against people they think are doing a bad job.
“[Mr Morrison] should be asking, ‘Why did these groups start up and why are people disaffected in heartland Liberal seats?'”
Mr Holmes a Court said Climate 200 would look to support between 12 and 20 independent candidates, and hoped three to five would win election.