IOA Part Two: Why the odds are stacked against success for Independents

Why aren’t more Australians vying to be Independent Candidates? Why aren’t more of us willing to step up in an attempt to improve the sorry state of #auspol?

I believe there are three key answers to these questions, and they symbolise some of the most the significant impediments to democracy in Australia in 2019.

This isn’t a new line of questioning for me, in fact I published an article on LinkedIn that touched on some of the excuses that I’ve used for not putting my neck on the line in an attempt to improve the calibre and integrity of decision making in this country.

That was 2017, and since then I’ve interviewed well over 50 different politicians, past, present, prospective, from many different parties, some state, some local but most federal. I have spoken to aids and advisors and still I have a lot to learn, but I have learnt a few things.

I have come to believe there are 4 key reasons why smart, honourable, capable Australians are resisting the punishment of independent political life;

I’ve learnt that being a politician requires an incredible amount of time on the road, time with and in the community, time spent reading papers and reports, late nights sitting in either the upper or lower house. A lot of time away from family and loved ones, and very little work life balance. The amount of quality family time our politicians are expected to sacrifice, that they can never get back (especially heartbreaking if you have a young family) has recently led to the resignations of several high profile politicians and has been the subject of debate (and little action) for many years. Katheryn Murphy wrote an incredible piece titled The Political Life is no Life at All, which captures the absurd dysfunction that is the life of a federal politician. Whether we loathe them, love them, don’t trust them or don’t acknowledge them, Australian politicians (and their families) sacrifice a lot of family time, for very little (to no) thanks, acknowledgement or appreciation.

Add the disadvantage in resources, funding and support for Independents, and the work life balance ratio only gets worse. Right now, there is a massive personal cost for political independence. And zero plans to tackle this concerning issue.

There is a massive personal cost for political independence.

Twitter and social media has brought a level of accountability and direct communication to our elected representatives that would have been impossible to comprehend in the era of Paul Keating. I can only imagine the Tweets that would have been shared when Bob Hawke was in power. Politicians of today rarely come out on top on #auspol tirades, very few showing the calibre of class, humour and humility we all desperately crave.

We see (and sometimes engage) in snarky Tweets that allow us to tag the political victim of the day, so we are acutely aware of what is waiting for us on the other side. For women, you’re called a sl*t or an ugly cow, your appearance is criticised and rape threats are par for the course. Welcome to life as a female politician.

There are so many smart, capable, honourable Australians, who ride the occasional waves of desire to “do something and run” because they are acutely aware that their characters may be condensed into a two page slogan, at any moment, even if they leave (sometimes valid, often without evidence). Some fear skeletons in their closet will come to haunt them or their family, and opt out of public life despite the loss of potential to the Australian people.

Independents face this same risk, but without the support of a large PR, media and communication team there to help get ahead of headlines that can spread misinformation and condense often complex issues into emotionally fuelled and inaccurate clickbait. Facts and truth are often losers in the fight for clicks and shares. With little comms support, Independents are more vulnerable to lies and accusations, often hurled at them in an effort to discredit a pesky independent holding up dodgy bills. The risk is real, and the support that exists is minimal.

As I have discussed in Part One of this conceptual exploration of Innovation in Australian democracy, but it’s a major part of the puzzle worth reinforcing, without the support to assist with fund raising that comes with the security blanket that is a political party, Independents need to self-fund their campaigns, whether it be soliciting donations from others, or hijacking employee entitlements like Clive Palmer — micro parties or Independents take one the full burden and responsibility of raising funds during a time where they also need to be meeting local community members, and being interesting (and controversial) enough to be featured in in the media. As cloning technology is both unethical and impossible, the financial challenge of even getting your foot in the door is significant (and often debilitating).

There are possibly hundreds more reasons why we don’t have more terrific independent candidates, if you feel I have missed some important reasons, please comment below.

I have written an entire article on this exact issue [click here to read], but in summary, electoral amendments made in 1984 offered voters an opportunity to simplify the voting process and reduce their time at the ballot in exchange for giving up the right to select preferences. Only parties would benefit from this amendment, not independents. After 1984 Independents would be listed “below the line”, and a vote for an independent meant a longer, often more confusing process of voting, that according to the Australian Parliament website, very few do.

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In Australia we appear to have no innovation in democracy, nor any desire to improve it. We suffer from apathy and we are more inclined to Tweet, not act. For the state of #auspol to improve, for the future of our country, we need action. If you support positive action to improve the state of democracy in Australia please share this article — we can do this, but we need to act together, and quickly.

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