One of the sweetest moments on election night would be seeing Tony Abbott reduced to a blubbering mess as he loses his seat. Putting an end to his 25-year career of union bashing, bigotry and racist scapegoating, all in the service of the rich and powerful, would be truly something to cheer about.
The trouble is that Zali Steggall, the independent candidate challenging Abbott in his blue ribbon Liberal seat of Warringah, is in no sense a champion of the poor and downtrodden. Steggall may be more “socially liberal” on some issues than Abbott, but, just like Abbott, she is proudly “economically conservative” and for “a business-friendly economy”.
Steggall, a well-heeled barrister, is totally out of touch with the concerns of the average worker. Reflecting her privileged background, Steggall spent much of her childhood in France perfecting her skiing at exclusive European ski resorts. She then landed a position with her father’s legal firm Roper and Steggall – all down to years of hard work, of course.
She currently serves on the Council of Governors of her old school, Queenwood School for Girls in well-to-do Mosman. Queenwood is one of Sydney’s top 10 private girls’ schools, with tuition fees of $26,292 a year (as at May 2015) for a year 12 student.
Unsurprisingly then, she has voted Liberal at state and local elections and is backed by former Liberal leader John Hewson, notorious for championing the introduction of the GST and other harsh austerity measures. Steggall has publicly stipulated that anyone with a Labor background cannot be part of her campaign.
She is for lower taxes for business and supports “sensible centre economic policies for a strong, stable economy and [will] resist proposed changes to negative gearing, franking credits and capital gains tax”. So don’t hold your breath waiting for the likes of Steggall to do anything to improve your living standards or champion workers’ rights.
It is a disgrace that the supposedly progressive campaign group Get Up is backing Steggall along with other disaffected Liberals running as independents.
One is Julia Banks, the former Liberal member for Chisholm. Banks, a strong supporter of the silvertail Malcolm Turnbull, resigned from the Liberals amid claims of bullying during the leadership spill.
Backed by Turnbull’s son Alex, she is standing as an independent in the Victorian seat of Flinders in an attempt to unseat health minister Greg Hunt, who was a key backer of Peter Dutton.
Banks, a graduate from the Australian Institute of Company Directors, attempts to pass herself off as “socially concerned”. Presumably that is why she worked for so many years as a corporate lawyer for firms such as Hoechst, Kraft Foods, GlaxoSmithKline and George Weston Foods, where she served as the chief general counsel and company secretary – all firms famous for caring for their customers and workers.
Banks’ phoney social conscience was graphically exposed last May, when, in response to concerns about the appallingly low level of the dole, she declared that she could live on $40 a day. Sadly, she never took up repeated challenges by the unemployed to do so.
Another member of the Liberal independent set is Oliver Yates, running in Kooyong against treasurer Josh Frydenberg. Yates, a banker and former head of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, has been a Liberal Party member most of his life.
He is the son of former Liberal member for Holt William Yates and attended a series of wealthy private schools. He is orienting his campaign to lifelong Liberal voters concerned about climate change. Despite declaring himself a “moderate”, he supports the government’s policy of refugee boat turn-backs.
Most of his campaign is meaningless guff like: “Right now, politics is broken and has become embarrassing. I’m standing to restore integrity to politics”.
But he also declares: “We need a strong business sector that works in partnership with the rest of society”. And pigs were seen flying in large numbers over Canberra.
Then there is Kerryn Phelps, the former president of the elite doctors’ club the Australian Medical Association, who is standing for the wealthy Wentworth electorate that she won in the by-election after Turnbull resigned. For all her claimed independence, Phelps went out of her way to preference the Liberals over Labor on her how-to-vote cards.
Finally, a word about Cathy McGowan, the independent member for the rural seat of Indi. McGowan is stepping down after having propped up the Liberal government for years by guaranteeing confidence and supply. Again, this is hardly a shock given that McGowan previously worked as a staffer for Indi’s Liberal MP Ewen Cameron and also for the conservative Victorian Farmers Federation.
It is understandable that lots of people are looking for alternatives to the discredited mainstream parties. But these Liberals in sheep’s clothing offer nothing for workers and the oppressed. What is needed is a genuinely left wing alternative like the Victorian Socialists.