News Politics Australian Politics Scott Morrison keeping door open to deal with climate independents
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Scott Morrison keeping door open to deal with climate independents

The Coalition is under pressure from independent challengers in several blue-ribbon seats. 10 News First – Disclaimer

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Scott Morrison is refusing to rule out a deal with the independents if he finds himself short of an outright majority after the election, despite equating them with “uncertainty and chaos”.

Polls suggest the deciding vote will go to a powerful cross bench populated by a new class of independent MPs likely to overwhelmingly be women with worldviews moulded outside traditional politics.

It would be difficult to fancy Mr Morrison’s chances as an alliance builder in such company.

But if he is troubled by such a future, he is not showing it.

One month out from a national poll, the Prime Minister does not appear to be softening his rhetoric or showing the slightest hesitancy to wade into political waters that might prove off-putting to future negotiating partners.

Last week alone, Mr Morrison’s double dealing over his junked corruption commission plan, refusal to answer climate questions, and backing of a transphobic candidate showed disdain in triplicate for progressive ideals about clean energy and clean politics.

Mr Morrison seems to instead be preparing for a fight and his rhetoric on independent candidates suggests as much.

“You don’t know who they are going to support, and who they are not going to support, you don’t know what the policies are,” the Prime Minister said in Western Australia on Monday.

“The great risk of voting for an independent in one of those contests is that you throw the Parliament into chaos and uncertainty.

“A vote for those independents is a vote for uncertainty, a vote for instability, and contracting out your decision to an independent candidate who doesn’t know which way they are going to jump.”

But when pressed on what kind of parliament voters might install, Mr Morrison refused to rule out cutting a deal with the very same independents.

He said he still plans for his incumbent MPs to fight and win challenges mounted by independents in formerly blue-ribbon Liberal seats such as Wentworth, North Sydney, Kooyong and Goldstein.

Mr Morrison’s evasions show, that, despite his rhetoric where he shut the door on a Coalition deal with the Greens this was one escape-way he wanted open.

But is this caginess about the future or just a recognition that when there is no government everything is negotiable? And is Mr Morrison, as Zali Steggall suggested, a disincentive for independents to support another term of Coalition government?

Asked if they would be prepared to countenance backing Mr Morrison as part of power sharing negotiations, most high-profile independents evinced revealed a similar mix of principle and politics.

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A recent poll suggests Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is on course to lose his seat of Kooyong. Photo: AAP

The unpopularity of the Prime Minister has helped create an environment in which independent challenges to incumbents are so potent and influenced the kinds of issues voters care about.

Of any independent with a national profile, it is  Jo Dyer who speaks most freely about her principles and what she wants to achieve in public life.

Unlike her counterparts in other cities who can be guarded and at times resemble the political professionals they are challenging, Ms Dyer is conceals nothing at all from voters on the question of she might approach a hung parliament.

“With his dishonesty, dissembling and climate denialism, Mr Morrison has shown himself unfit to be Prime Minister,” she tells The New Daily.

Ms Dyer is contesting Boothby, a south Adelaide seat on a Liberal margin worn down to 1.4 per cent but unlike other independent challengers she will have to best Labor too if she wants to claim this seat from the government.

Ms Dyer says the prospect of trading her support with the current Prime Minister would undermine her main focus on honesty in politics and action on climate change.

“Morrison stands for neither,” she said.

“He has actively sought to stymie both.”

No other independent candidate expresses a view on the Prime Minister with such candour.

They are, however, more comfortable nominating the criteria by which they might assess competing minority governments.

The most recent independents to sit in the Parliament have, excepting Bob Katter, have tried to counter perceptions they might be up for horse trading with either major party before the election.

Helen Haines, who represents the Victorian seat of Indi, outlines the issues on which she might be persuaded.

“A robust federal integrity commission, strong action on climate change, and urgent and significant investment in regional health care,” she said.

They seem to run the gamut from urbane and classically liberal but still Liberal to conventionally left wing to those with platforms so idiosyncratic and issue-focused they truly deserve the label.

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Allegra Spender, left, and Zoe Daniel, right, say they would be open to talking to either party.

Zoe Daniel, who seeks to challenge Tim Wilson in Goldstein, says that not being open to negotiating with one side of politics would be a breach of her duties as an independent.

“Mr Morrison would make it easier for himself if he had not broken his solemn election promise to establish a national anti-corruption commission, but that is not a reason not to talk,” she told The New Daily. 

“The men aspiring to lead the government in such circumstances would know full well the principles on which I have campaigned: Faster and stronger action on climate change, restoration of integrity and trust in politics, and real equality and safety for women.”

Allegra Spender is to the point when she explains how she might act in a hung parliament if she beats Dave Sharma in Wentworth.

“I would be open to negotiating with either party,” she said.

“My priorities are climate, integrity and a future-focused, inclusive economy.”

And Monique Ryan, recently found to be on top against Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in Kooyong according to a pre-election poll, seems to be taking to the role of politician. She would negotiate to “secure an outcome that aligns with the values” of the local community.

“Her vote will always be independent, informed by expert evidence and the views and values of her Kooyong community,” a spokesman said.

Kylea Tink who is taking on Trent Zimmerman says she would put party leaders on the spot and determined who would best deliver on local needs: “quicker action on climate, integrity in politics and genuine equality for women.”

And for Sophie Scamps in Mackellar a spokesman says there are, again, clear priorities against which a prospective government could be judged: “urgent climate action, integrity and better healthcare.”

Of course there are many good reasons, relating to both post-election negotiations and pre-election tactics, to not say anything definitive in response to these questions, or, better yet, not say anything at all.

The Prime Minister knows all about that.