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Simon Holmes à Court on how the Independents really won their seats.

How the teals really won, with Simon Holmes à Court

Read Transcript

The stunning victories of six new teal independents, in seats the Liberal Party thought were unloseable, has redrawn the political map in Australia.

Throughout the campaign, critics of these Independents suggested they had powerful backers who were co-ordinating things behind the scenes.

According to the Liberal Party, chief among them was Simon Holmes à Court, the founder of climate lobby group Climate 200.

But the Independents themselves maintained they were not coordinating, and the funding from Climate 200 came with no strings attached.

Today, Simon Holmes à Court on how the Independents really won their seats.

 

Guest: Founder of Climate 200, Simon Holmes à Court.

 
Read Transcript

[Theme Music Starts]

RUBY:
From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am

The stunning victories of six new teal independents - in seats the Liberal Party thought were unloseable - has redrawn the political map in Australia.

Throughout the campaign critics of these Independents suggested they had powerful backers who were co-ordinating things behind the scenes.

According to the Liberal Party - chief among them was Simon Holmes A Court, the founder of climate lobby group Climate 200.

But the Independents themselves maintained they were not co-ordinating, and the funding from Climate 200 came with no strings attached.

Today, Simon Holmes A Court, on how the Independents really won their seats.

It’s Monday May 30.

[Theme Music Ends]

RUBY:
So, Simon, as you were just saying, on election night, you were in Kooyong where Monique Ryan beat Josh Frydenberg. She's one of the two candidates who was supported by your group by Climate 200. Could you tell me about the night? What was it like?

SIMON:
It was amazing night there. About 1200 people there at the Auburn Hotel. 

Archival Tape -- Leigh Sales:
“Simon Holmes a court is standing by, one of the big backers of the two candidates. Where are you? Actually, Simon, I can see you're at a party, but I don't know exactly where you are”

Archival Tape -- Simon:
“I'm here at the Auburn Hotel in Hawthorn, which is in the middle, middle of Kooyong” 

SIMON:
It was quite, quite an electrifying feeling. 

Archival Tape -- Antony Green (ABC):
“I have given you my reasoning. It wants to be free. I can't see Josh Frydenberg getting above 43% of the votes was seeing. And if he can't get above 43%, he's going to lose that contest. I'm assuming Antony…”

SIMON:
I think most people had set their expectations pretty low. They were they were thinking, well, we we got close, but let's be prepared for a loss. And as the numbers started coming in, some of the first booths that came in were from the more conservative end of the electorate. And that was people thought we weren't going to get any traction in and went and cabling the campaign director for Monique when she saw Balwyn and Deep Dive. Both have massive swings towards Monique. 

She at that point, you know, she let out a squeal of delight.

Archival Tape -- Monique Ryan:
“Our climate has changed”

Archival Tape -- Crowd:
“wooo!”

SIMON:
And it was quite clear to her that things were going better than the low expectations that many of us had set.

Archival Tape -- Monique Ryan:
“Our government wasn’t listening to us, so we changed the government” 

RUBY:
Yeah, well, not many people did expect that Monique Ryan, who was, I suppose, a largely unknown doctor at the time, could actually go on to beat the sitting treasurer with all of his profile and the support that he had. So let's go back a few steps, if we can. Simon, could you tell me about where the idea for for Climate 200 came from and what your involvement was and what motivated it?

SIMON:
Yes, a Climate 200. It's hard to pick back where the beginnings, but I think one thing that's important is to understand that this movement started long before we came along. Long before I came along can probably be traced back to the Indi campaign in 2013 that elected Cathy McGowan. 

What makes these community independents different is that the campaigns exist first and go out looking for a candidate. So it's not someone putting their hand up saying, I want you to vote for me. Like they go out and try to find the best person in their community who is in a position to stand and then build these amazing campaign teams that very much harness large volunteer basis. 

So in Kooyong, there were there were over 2000 volunteers. And those sort of massive numbers can be seen across all of those successful campaigns. 

So Climate 200 is one of many cogs in this massive movements machine. 

I started it in 2019, frustrated that. So I'm on the I'm on the board of a of the Australian Environmental Grant Makers Network. It's a philanthropy community that looks to help philanthropists be more effective with their giving into environmental causes. And one thing that struck me is that we as a philanthropic community spent so much time funding organisations that were trying to make change, only to find that the great ideas, the great proposals, the great advocacy you just hit a brick wall in Canberra. We were hacking at the branches when striking at the root meant we needed to have a majority of MP’s that wanted science based response to climate change. And I think very tightly connected here is restoring integrity to politics, I think.

So climate 200’s job was to work towards having majority of MPs that support climate and integrity. And after the series of shocking events that came to light in 2021, we decided to add a third value, which was advancing the treatment and respect for women in Australia, whether it's in the community, the workplace or politics. 

RUBY:
Hmm. And you wrote in *The Saturday Paper* at the weekend about the the state of the research methods that were employed by Climate 200 to make sure that you focussed on seats that were winnable. So can you tell me what that actually involved. 

SIMON:
Yeah. With, with research there's always quantitative and qualitative. Qualitative is focus groups mainly was was the majority of what we did and that was fairly standard. But it gave us a sense for what are the issues that resonated in those communities and how did people feel about the government that we had been experiencing over the last three terms? 

But on the on the quantitative front, it's often said that you can't trust seat polls, that state polling is the least reliable form of polling. We polled frequently. We made sure that the samples were corrected against a whole range of demographic information. That's not not in common use amongst the major polling organisations, but we ended up collecting much more information from the electorate. That we ended up supporting than is typically done in the in the kind of national polls. So we didn't we didn't spend any time looking at the national polls that really wasn't interesting.

So in the last federal election. A lot of organisations tried to make it a climate election. They worked really hard to make it a climate election and afterwards there was a lot of scoffing saying, Well, you didn't manage to do that for all the efforts, it didn't cut through enough. I think what's interesting in this movement is that it wasn't trying to turn the whole election into a climate election. But these community campaigns are restoring the notion. We often hear the political saying that all politics is local. Well, it is. It hasn't been for for quite a while. We've had national discussions, but this movement brought politics back very much at the local level. So I would say it was a climate election in about a dozen electorates. 

RUBY:
And once all of that was taken into account, what did you offer?

SIMON:
So the main thing, the most important thing we offered was financial assistance to run the campaigns. And typically just taking a step back, Climate 200 is effectively a giving circle or a crowdfunding campaign. We had we raised about 12 and a half million dollars from 11,200 donors. So we started off on on Twitter, Amazing Community Day. We raised about $2 million from Twitter before it started. The mainstream media picked up on what we were doing, and we ended up with 11,200. By the end of the end of the campaign, the main support we gave campaigns was financial assistance, but very important to us that we were we were turbocharging campaigns rather than providing the the bedrock of funding. So most campaigns, certainly the ones that were successful last Saturday, most of those campaigns, our funding was only between 30 and 40% of all their funding. So amazing was in Kooyong. I think many Greens campaign raised more than $1.1 million from 3000 donors. Climate 200 in that campaign was less than a third of the funding. 

But another thing we we did is advice where where campaigns said, hey, we don't know how to run, how do you roster boots. So we would help them connect them with people who had rusted boots before. 

The fascinating thing about this movement is most people involved have never been involved in politics before. And that was one of the most exciting things that the open hotel on Saturday night, there were 1200 people there, most of whom have never been to a political, you know, election night party. It was it was electric. 

So whenever campaigns hit a brick wall of of knowledge, we would connect them with experts who knew how to do those tasks and could give advice. But very important for us and for the campaigns that we took a passive approach in that that we we stepped back and only offered assistance when, when, when needed.

RUBY:
And there was criticism during the campaign that independents, supported by you weren't truly independent. So did your involvement present a risk at all in that the biggest strength of an. Dependent is that they're they're not part of any party. And that involvement with a bigger movement diminishes that that strength, that claim.

SIMON:
It's interesting that those criticisms came from came from the government or should I say the opposition now. Those those criticisms was part of their playbook of how they deal with deal with this movement. We we were deeply careful from before, but before they landed on those attack lines that we we didn't want, the strength of this movement comes in it being genuinely independent. One one so so and the candidates that we supported would, would not have accepted any money from us had there been any strings attached. And and what I mean, what could those strings be? We, we can't imagine what those how, you know, how we could have any control. But what we also why we would want control the this some they and if you know we ran some focus group about six weeks ago to see how powerful these lines were that the coalition was was was throwing at Climate 200. And it was it was it was fascinating to find that they didn't cut through at all to the question of, you know, what if these candidates were working together, they weren't working together, but what if these candidates were working together? The focus groups said, Oh, that's great. I hope they're working together. They said, What? You know, what do you think of Climate 200 and and people said, it sounds like a reasonable idea. So we found that the coalition's lines didn't cut through. Certainly I think at times some of the candidates found it a distraction. But ultimately, if you want to compete against the big boys, you know, and you know that they are largely boys, you have to run professional campaigns and that costs a lot of money. 

But just to put things in context, out at 12 million, you know, it's a lot of it was a lot of money. I don't I don't want to minimise that. But compared with what was spent at the last election, we don't have the numbers for what other party spent this time. But at the last election the Coalition was about 180 million labour, about I think 120. Palmer 84 million and the Greens 20 million.  tt

So in the, in, in the scheme of things, we, we spent a relatively small amount on the election, but I think it's pretty clear that we were much more strategic certainly than certainly than Palmer, who claims he spent a hundred million on this election and didn't win a single lower house seat.

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Archival Tape -- Chris Kenny:
“We've talked a lot on this show about the dishonesty of the so-called Teal Independents. I've said and written that they're the most fraudulent political movement ever foisted upon this country because they're not centrist as they pretend they're green left extremists and they're not independent as they pretend.”


Archival Tape -- Sky Commentator:
“These people are living in an entirely unrealistic world. The teal world, the Holmes a Court world is all about this post-material, feelings based economy”

Archival Tape -- Andrew Bolt:
“Labor could still need the votes of one of Simon Holmes a Court's so-called climate independents to form government. And checking on two of them last night. God help us. Two of these Simon-says Independents Nicolette Buhler and Kylie Ti”

RUBY:
Hmm. Simon, I want to ask you a bit more about some of the coverage that we saw of Climate 200 and the independents, because you've called it vitriolic at times and nasty. So do you think that there are people in the national media that should be asking themselves questions about that after this result?

SIMON:
Well, people should be asking questions of them. I don't think they have. I mean, I've spoken to some after the treatment by of the movement by News Corp was reprehensible. But the one thing that I think you're referring to, some comments I made, it was fascinating to me how we would often see talking points that clearly came from the coalition given given to journalists, typically from The Telegraph or The Australian. And we would get an email at 3 p.m. saying with like five questions, very, very pointed questions, ones that really couldn't be left unanswered. Down to drop everything and respond to these questions. And then there'd be a hit job the next day. But within minutes of being published, it would be tweeted out by the, you know, the fake moderates Sharma and Falinski. And Tim Wilson would would would be tweeting them out right away. And it very much it was pretty obvious to all that it was there was an unholy alliance between the journalists for those papers and the fake moderates who are under threat. 

RUBY:
And so what happens now for the the independence movement? You've said that you you won't remain involved with these candidates at all now that they're elected. Is that right? 

SIMON:
Yeah. When it comes to re-election time, if they would like support again, we'll definitely help them. And if if there are ways we can help in the interim, we'll definitely look into that. One way I think of of this movement is that it was it was already a little fire smouldering along and we threw a whole bunch of petrol on it and then it created a forest fire. Not a great analogy, I know, but but it's, it's going at such a pace right now that it doesn't need us to continue, but we would like it to keep growing. So we're going to keep helping where we can, but always respecting that this is first and foremost a community democracy movement. And our job is not to direct, but to assist. 

RUBY:
Mm hmm. And when you say ways to help and that you would be able to assist. And what do you mean by that? And have you set me parameters around what that would look like? 

SIMON:
Yeah. No, we haven't. We haven't yet worked out our, you know, post-election post-mortems just starting starting next week. Our teams just had an incredibly intense last eight months or so and with most people are taking this week mostly off. And then we start our post-mortems and try to work out next and go. We're talking to every one of the campaigns, successful and unsuccessful other people in the in the area like Cathy McGowan's Community Independence Project and working out what's next for the movement. 

I know that there are a lot of people in the movement who are who are really energised for the first time, that they had their first taste of politics and they liked this brand of politics. And a lot of people are now thinking, what's next? What's next? And I saw in Kooyong in 2019 a group of volunteers to Oliver Yates independent campaign. They stuck around and worked really hard and managed to get three councillors onto local government, onto the local board, our town council and the city council. They were invigorated in order to keep moving and I wouldn't be surprised if there are people throughout the country. There were 17,000 volunteers for the for the community in the community independents movement last Saturday. And I wouldn't be surprised if many of them want to keep going and if there are many more communities who either came close or now have looking over the fence to an electorate near them thinking, yeah, we could we could have some of that.

RUBY:
And so it sounds like, you know, these are the types of campaigns that the Climate 200 will continue to consider being involved in. 2022 wasn't the last election for Climate 200?

SIMON:
Absolutely not. No. Wake up. We're going we're going to keep going. We think this is a watershed, not just a moment. 

For the first time in a very long time, politics, as I said before, politics has become local again. People really enjoy it. The quality of the representation is really, really high. And we've and we've I think we've all learnt from this last election that the model works, it's viable. And the great thing is that we have we've had the exemplary role models of, well, first Cathy McGowan, but now Helen Haines and Zali Steggall. We know everyone who's watched them. They're not wreckers, they're builders, they're sensible. They're no nonsense. You don't read about them. You don't read about their antics, you read about their policies.And I think we're going to see a lot more of that. 

But right now, I think the focus will be on the on on whether the six community backed independents the Green Wave daily down in in Fowler Yeah. The new crossbench will be about the same size as the Nationals in the Lower House, which is just absolutely stunning from where we've come from.

RUBY:
Simon, thank you so much for speaking to me.

SIMON:
Thanks, Ruby. It was a pleasure to be on.

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RUBY:
And also in the news today

 

Barnaby Joyce’s leadership of the National Party will be contested today after former veteran’s affairs minister Darren Chester and Deputy Leader David Littleproud both said they would challenge him for the leadership position.

 

The three-way contest could have a big impact on the Coalition’s climate policy, Chester in particular is seen as more moderate on climate and the environment than Joyce.

 

And

 

Samoa has signed an agreement with China promising “greater collaboration” between the countries.

 

The agreement comes during a 10-day visit by Chinese Foreign Minister to the pacific region and also follows the Solomon Islands signing a wide-ranging security pact with China earlier this year.

 

Host

Ruby Jones is an investigative journalist and host of 7am.

Guest

Simon Holmes à Court is an energy analyst, investor and convenor of Climate 200.

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