Zimmerman, with a margin of 9.3 per cent, does not downplay the threat. Recent polling showed an unnamed independent could garner 16 per cent of the vote there. Zimmerman says climate change is an issue very close to his heart, just like it is to his community, and it is important that the Liberal Party has people in its ranks prepared to advocate for it.
The independent groupings dismiss that argument from him and other progressive liberals by saying they vote the same as Barnaby Joyce and Craig Kelly. No wonder Peter Dutton is pressing the progressives to keep up the pressure on climate change to get the issue “off the table”.
It might not be the issue at the election, but it could be big enough in enough seats, along with the other two, to make the difference.
McGowan, the mother of the movement who founded Voices of Indi to win the seat in 2013, has a firm view of what is driving people away from the major parties: in the inner-urban seats, traditional Liberals believe the party has gone too far to the right and is being taken over by Christian fundamentalists. In regional areas, farmers think the Nationals have sold out to the miners.
McGowan’s formula for success in Indi, now held by another independent, Helen Haines, is being spread around the country via regular video conference calls and intense networking. As the informal leader, she is a canny, invaluable source of advice and contacts.
And in what should be another extremely worrying development for the government, that network has linked in with the Climate 200 group, founded by businessman Simon Holmes a Court. Holmes a Court is scathing about the government’s record on climate change, gender and integrity especially now in the wake of the Porter revelations.
He believes only a change of government will ensure progress on all three because there is no surety Morrison will implement change. His group will not be involved in candidate selection, but it will help fund campaigns for candidates who align with its priorities.
It will provide professional infrastructure in targeted seats vulnerable to certain kinds of campaigns, like the one which saw Zali Steggall unseat Tony Abbott in Warringah.
Holmes a Court is happy with the way fundraising is going. One member, Simon Monk, offered to match every $1000 donation. Holmes a Court offered to do the same. So far 96 people have given $1000 each. They are serious people with serious money, but they are also getting grassroots commitments of $25 and $50.
Climate 200 has also polled Wentworth and Mackellar in NSW and next month will poll Victorian seats including Flinders where speculation continues that Health Minister Greg Hunt will not recontest despite his public statements that he will.
Chair of the Voices of Mornington Peninsula, Louise Page, says they are close to selecting a candidate from a field of six, mostly women.
Goldstein and Kooyong are also in the frame, while the retirement of the Speaker Tony Smith at the next election, has put his seat of Casey on the radar, and if Russell Broadbent was ever to go, his seat of Monash would be targeted as would Damian Drum’s seat of Nicholls.
Speaking of Warringah, unless former NSW premier Mike Baird puts his hand up, Steggall will be re-elected. None of the other Liberals discussed will beat the independent, certainly not in this climate, and climate is key.
Steggall is also very active in the various groups, passing on some of the lessons she learnt, including her suspicion her phone was hacked during the campaign. Conversations now take place mainly on Signal.
The challenge for the government is to win enough seats to make up for expected losses to independents or Labor. While the west and Victoria remain wastelands for the Liberals, Morrison’s pathway to victory looks even narrower now than it was in 2019.
Niki Savva is a regular columnist and a former Coalition adviser.