As the dust settled in the wake of an explosive election, Wagga’s state representative independent MP Dr Joe McGirr pondered the outcome.
“We’re still trying to think through what it means,” he said.
Dubbed ‘Independent’s Day’ by the tabloids, a wave of independent candidates unceremoniously shoved the Coalition government from office.
“Clearly climate change, integrity and status of women were some big factors,” Dr McGirr said.
So-called teal independents delivered one of the biggest shakeups to the two-party system in recent political history. All six of the teals to win a seat were women and they each overcame a male Liberal contender.
The loosely aligned independents were primarily funded by political activist Simon Holmes à Court and campaigned on conservative fiscal values and more progressive views on climate.
“My observation is they have provided an alternative to liberal candidates in strong conservative seats which would never countenance voting Labor,” Dr McGirr said.
“It just goes to show that you’ve got to look after your electorates. You’ve got to be listening to the electorate and that means on big issues, but it also means on local issues.”
There can be no doubt that it was a bumpy ride for the Coalition in the year leading to last week’s poll. Along with natural disasters and the global pandemic, the Government grappled with a string of scandals, accusations of misogyny and examples of disunity.
“I don’t think people are comfortable if the party is divided,” Dr McGirr said.
“It all came together to create an unease and then the teals provided an alternative in those seats.”
Dr Joe suggested issues of integrity undermined the government on several levels, but said Riverina’s Nationals member Michael McCormack remained exempt.
“I think there was still a lot of respect for Michael because people realise the way he was treated in terms of the leadership and the way he conducted himself after that,” he said.
“He’s not a person whose integrity you can question and I think that’s a very important thing.”
With McCormack’s party no longer in office, the millions of federal dollars promised to the Riverina for projects like Wagga Airport and a research facility at CSU may have evaporated. But Dr McGirr remained optimistic.
“The CSU campus here and its role in agriculture will be of national significance. I think we’ve got to recognise that needs to be supported at a national level,” he said.
“The airport likewise is important to the regional tourism market. I’m sure Michael will prosecute that very firmly as he deals with the Labor government.”
As for what sort of federal government we can expect with a stronger Greens party and the new independents in both houses, Dr McGirr said he’ll be watching with interest.
“I think elections are fought and won on the middle ground and a retreat to one end of the spectrum versus the other; I don’t think in the long run is productive,” he said.
“You have to be where people are and I think in this electorate, at a state level, integrity and climate change have been important factors.”