FEATURE ARTICLE FOR RIISE.
If you care about the climate, you have two choices at the upcoming Australian election: Greens or independents. A vote for the Greens or the Climate 200–backed wave of teal independents is a vote for stronger, science-based climate action.
As it stands, neither major party currently offers substantial climate policies. But because of the way Australia’s political system works, one of them will end up elected come May 21.
The good news is political experts predict the election is likely to result in a hung parliament – where neither major party wins enough seats to secure the majority. If the Greens or independents win the key seats they are campaigning for, they could end up in a balance of power position. This means the successful major party would need to team up with Greens or independents to form government, an outcome that could change Australian politics for good.
It’s not just about putting climate back on the agenda: these candidates are reshaping politics in other highly impactful and nuanced ways. They’re campaigning for real change and action on the issues that matter most to people in their electorates. The Greens candidate for Cooper, Celeste Liddle, is a case in point.
Arrernte woman, unionist, feminist and writer, Celeste describes herself as a “long-term protestor, first-time political candidate”. She has been an outspoken critic of politics in the past and admits that, like so many of us, she’s lost faith in the political system – something that endears her as a candidate. “I still have an aversion to politics, and I definitely don’t see politics as a career,” she tells RIISE. But when the pandemic shone a light on the sweeping powers of government, something shifted for Celeste.
“During the pandemic, as I was watching the disparities grow in society…the penny dropped for me that there’s a handful of people in a very small room in this country that make decisions that impact the lives of millions,” she says. “And I thought, well, we need more voices…that represent communities on the [parliament] floor.”
This was the main driver for Celeste to join the Greens as the candidate for the progressive seat of Cooper in Victoria. It’s her view that democracy cannot function properly without the opportunity for people to vote for candidates that actually represent them and their needs.
Covering Melbourne’s northern suburbs, Cooper is a multicultural seat with a high population of Indigenous people. It’s also home to the highest proportion of left-wing voters in the country. “If we want to represent the people in this seat effectively, then the contest isn’t actually between Labor and Liberal – it’s between which left-wing party best represents the values of the community,” Celeste explains. Those values include climate action, improved access to health care, refugee rights and asylum, and securing better rights for workers.
Of course, Cooper isn’t the only electorate that wants to see action on these issues this election. The latest statistics from the ABC’s Vote Compass show climate change, cost of living, and economy and finance are the top-ranked concerns for voters across the country.
Celeste is outspoken about the pitfalls of the political system and, refreshingly, doesn’t speak like a regular politician either. There are no campaign slogans, no well-rehearsed party lines, no appeals to “everyday Aussies” and definitely no “fair dinkums”. In short, there’s no bullshit.
Instead, she considers each question carefully and offers genuine and often deeply personal answers. She’s thoughtful and articulate about the issues she’s campaigning for. Hearing her speak, it’s easy to imagine an alternative political system, one where the parliament is made up of more normal people (albeit high-achieving ones) that are truly representative of their communities.
“There is a certain amount of privilege that we accept as a default voice in this country – white, masculine, heterosexual, wealthy,” Celeste says. “Everyone else who doesn’t fall into that is a minority view.” But if the progressive candidates running this year are anything to go by, that power imbalance is shifting. This election could be the start of a new chapter that sees more minority voices elevated in parliament.
Celeste isn’t alone in pushing for more diverse representation in government. The Greens party has a long history of attracting candidates who are dissatisfied with “politics as usual” and passionate about affecting change for their communities. Celeste mentions Greens senator Lidia Thorpe, a Gunnai Gunditjmara and Djab Wurrung woman and the first Aboriginal senator from Victoria.
Both women come from similar sovereignty activist backgrounds and live just blocks apart in Melbourne. She says seeing Lidia in the Senate as a powerful voice for Indigenous communities – who have, historically, been systematically excluded from government and policy-making processes – was another big driver for joining the Greens.
“I’ve always had this view that real change happens at the grassroots level,” Celeste says. “But when you’ve got a small group of people deciding on legislation that then impacts millions, unless the voices from the grassroots and from the activist space are actually on that floor, having the arguments, we don’t get an awful lot of change happening.”
In the House of Representatives, the major parties need to win 76 out of 151 seats to govern independently. If they fail to secure this majority, the majors will be forced to form minority governments with crossbenchers – Greens and independent MPs. As Celeste reminds us, a strong crossbench means the major parties will have to negotiate – on legislative matters and key issues – with more diverse voices in order to hold their power and form government.
As voters, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by these technical aspects of politics. And in the face of a dominant two-party system, it can be hard to see the weight in a vote for the Greens or an independent. But it pays to remember what these candidates stand for. They’re people who have the power to affect real change in parliament, including fast-tracking climate action, and represent the needs of more ordinary or marginalised people. Which, as Celeste says, is what we ultimately need because “the future isn’t just white, masculine heterosexual men from wealthy backgrounds, it’s all of us”.
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