Knock knock, the Teals are here

The rise of the Teals heralded a return to community representation at a pivotal moment in ‘post-truth’ history – and also the rediscovery of the lost art of door knocking – according to speakers at Adelaide Writers’ Week.

Mar 09, 2023, updated Mar 09, 2023
Chair Marian Wilkinson with Simon Holmes à Court and Brook Turner in the Adelaide Writers' Week session 'A Vision in Teal'. Photo: Tony Lewis

Chair Marian Wilkinson with Simon Holmes à Court and Brook Turner in the Adelaide Writers' Week session 'A Vision in Teal'. Photo: Tony Lewis

The rise of the Teals, progressive community independents who are politically unaligned, may loom as an existential threat not just to the Liberal Party, which they helped annihilate federally, but to Labor as well.

How it plays out, according to journalist and Independents’ Day author Brook Turner, will depend on who manages to harness the mood for change most effectively.

“At the moment, it is absolutely the independents,” he said during Adelaide Writers’ Week session Vision in Teal. “I have learnt from the experience of writing a book that this movement has been counted out at every single stage of its development, but it continues to morph and change to meet circumstances and it is much more pragmatic than it is ideological.”

Simon Holmes à Court, businessman and convenor and founder of Climate 200, which funds the campaigns of community independents – including that of Mayo member Rebekha Sharkie – said the defeat of Scott Morrison helped save Australia from “a twilight of democracy” seen in the US with the election of Trump, and in the UK with Boris Johnson.

“We dodged a bullet,” Holmes à Court said.

“It sends shivers down my spine. I heard Trump speak recently and it took me back to what it was like; a post-truth leader getting up and lying to the public every day.”

Holmes à Court said Australia had been in danger of heading down the same path. “We jumped off that track and Australia is now on a different track.”

Since then, democracy organisations from the US and the UK had contacted Climate 200 looking for advice. But Holmes à Court said Australia was ahead to begin with because it had much stronger democratic foundations, including mandatory voting, preferential voting, relatively little gerrymandering, and consistent voting systems.

“We have a federal voting commission which has integrity that some of our Americans friends dream of,” he said. “We’ve got fantastic underpinnings.”

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The problem in Australia had been that the two-party system shut people out of the process for a long time. However, technological shifts had contributed to making it easier for community groups to chase representation and share information, and the Teals had harnessed incredible expertise in their volunteer force, said Holmes à Court, a former Silicon Valley software engineer.

The recent election trends also signalled the success and rise of a particularly old-fashioned skill: door knocking.

Answering a question about how campaigners for the Indigenous Voice to Parliament could benefit from the Teals success, Turner said door knocking was the secret ingredient everyone had written off before the federal election, in which the Morrison Government lost 17 seats, six of them to Independents.

“Those experts looking at those campaigns often thought that door-knocking was labour-intensive, not particularly efficient,” Turner said. “Everyone… learnt that door knocking is the way to do it. It’s actually speaking to a human being about the issues and it’s the whole basis of community campaigning.”

Adelaide Writers’ Week continues in the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden until March 9. InReview is reporting from Writers’ Week each day – read coverage of other sessions here

Read more 2023 Adelaide Festival stories and reviews here on InReview.


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