SMH opinion piece by Peter FitzSimons, 26 September 2021: 'Simon Holmes a Court is sitting on a $1.4 million election war chest, here’s how it will be spent'

Simon Holmes a Court is sitting on a $1.4 million election war chest, here’s how it will be spent

Climate 200 is an initiative co-founded by Simon Holmes a Court, clean energy advocate and son of corporate raider Robert and philantropist and businesswoman Janet. It will support progressive independents at the next federal election, building on the success of the likes of Zali Steggall.

Fitz: Simon, written on your thumbnail, what is the big idea of your “Climate 200”?

Holmes a Court: The big idea is to get the right people in Parliament so we can get Australia unblocked on the important issues, starting with action on climate change, integrity in government and gender equity. In the last decade and a half we have gone backwards, particularly on climate change. Both Howard and Rudd went into the 2007 election with credible policies to reduce carbon emissions. Since Tony Abbott dismantled Australia’s climate policy in 2014, we’ve gone backwards. Right now we have no credible policy on climate and the voters know it. The way to change that is to get the right people in parliament.

Fitz: Why have we fallen so far behind, and how do you decide who are “the right people”? Isn’t that for us electors?

Holmes a Court: MPs have lost the courage to cross the floor, and with the numbers as they are, the government is hamstrung, held hostage by a powerful minority led by the likes of Barnaby Joyce dictating conditions – who will only ever do anything in return for monumental piles of pork – and “Minister for Emissions Reduction” Angus Taylor who says up is down, black is white, and we are lowering our emissions, when we are not. Zali Steggall in Warringah and Helen Haines in Indi, are accountable to their communities, not beholden to parties or political ambition.

It’s looking like there’ll be about 30 community independent campaigns at the next election. We’re working to identify six to 10 with the best chance of success, and offer assistance with strategy and fundraising to help them get over the line. As to your last question, we’re not choosing the candidates … communities are. Climate 200’s job is to level the playing field but, of course, it’s the voters who make the final decision.

Fitz: How did you raise the money?

Holmes a Court: It started with a few tweets and built from there. In less than a month more than 1000 donors have chucked in $1.4 million. We’ve tapped into the huge pent-up frustration with parliament’s inability to address the big issues. Just three more strong independents and the Respect at Work report could be implemented and start to actually deliver respect for women in the workplace, we could have a federal integrity commission to weed out corruption, we could have sensible discussions around the Uluru Statement and so forth.

Shortly after Kerryn Phelps and Julia Banks joined the crossbench in late 2018 they delivered the Medevac bill that helped hundreds of refugees trapped in offshore hellholes get critical medical attention. Back in 2010 to 2013, crossbenchers Windsor, Oakeshott, Wilkie and Bandt played a critical role in bringing in the price on carbon producing immediate results, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the Parliamentary Budget Office, and the NDIS. Plenty of evidence that modern Australian governments are at their best when they have to negotiate with quality crossbenchers.

Fitz: Is the list of donors publicly available, and if not, why not? What we call in politics the “Christian Porter Rule”, says if you don’t disclose, you cannot be in the top tiers of Government, which is really saying something.

Holmes a Court: We will abide by the rules of the Australian Electoral Commission assiduously, and list all those who contribute above the disclosure limit. Christian Porter has shown us that donation laws need to be overhauled, and I’m convinced that only independents can lead that reform.

Fitz: Who are the lowest hanging fruit, the people you can most easily knock off?

Holmes a Court: It’s not locked in. But right now you have Dave Sharma in Wentworth, Trent Zimmerman in North Sydney and Jason Falinski in Mackellar. In Victoria, we are also looking at Greg Hunt, Tim Wilson and Josh Frydenberg. At the last election, the biggest swing was against Tony Abbott and the second biggest was against Frydenberg. I live in the Treasurer’s electorate and in the last state election, my local state seat, Hawthorn, flipped to the ALP. Frydenberg is vulnerable, as they all are.

Fitz: But take Trent Zimmerman, for example. He’s no Paul Keating, I grant you. But nor is he Tony Abbott. If tonight, instead of a Four Seasons pizza, you ordered out for a moderate’s moderate with moderate sauce and extra moderate hold the spice, and he turned up, you wouldn’t send him home. Why go after moderates?

Holmes a Court: On climate and integrity and so many of the big issues Trent Zimmerman’s voting record is the same as Barnaby Joyce’s and George Christensen’s. He doesn’t vote like a moderate. His voting record does not reflect the values of his electorate. Trent was on the committee that reviewed Zali Steggall’s net-zero bill, led by science and borrowing heavily from the UK’s conservative government’s net-zero laws. Trent recommended that it not even be debated in parliament. Vote Trent, and you get Barnaby. A lifetime Liberal voter from North Sydney recently told me she no longer recognises the Liberal Party and it no longer recognises her. When Morrison dismissed “the cafes, dinner parties and wine bars of our inner cities” he was dismissing her and thousands like her.

Fitz: Speaking of Wentworth, Dave Sharma recently said of your group, “I’m interested in politics as the art of the possible, not meaningless posturing.” What do you say to that?

Holmes a Court: Dave Sharma has been posturing for three years and has delivered nothing. If we succeed in helping three more independents to the crossbench, he’ll see what’s possible!

Fitz: You could be accused of being a stalking horse for the ALP?

Holmes a Court: All of the community groups we’re speaking with are after genuinely local, independent representation, and that means beating Labor, the Coalition and the Greens. But hey, if there was a Matt Kean running federally, or a Liberal with the courage to vote with their values, we’d consider supporting them.


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