Are these women just manifestations of white feminism who were brought forward on the premise of climate change and transparency?
The 2022 Federal Election has been construed as a win for women. For one, the Liberal government is out and Labor is in. A slate of independent women, including teal independents and others such as Dai Le, now hold more power than ever. Although this step forward must be celebrated and enjoyed, it also calls into question the perhaps perceived power that the teal independents now hold.
In this historic election, teal independents claimed 6 seats, all representing former Liberal heartlands. Most of them are backed by the Climate 200 Group—a funding group that supports candidates on the basis of climate change and integrity. This group is owned by the son of Australia's first billionaire—Simon Holmes à Court. Whilst it is undoubtedly a win to have more progressive women winning seats, it is also important to recognise their privilege.
Allegra Spender, member for Wentworth, is the daughter of famous designer Carla Zampatti and former liberal MP John Spender. She attended the exclusive Ascham school and later, Oxford University. Dr Monique Ryan, is a respected doctor and a director of a paediatric department at a private hospital. Ryan studied at The University of Melbourne, The University of Sydney and spent a period of time at Harvard University. Zali Steggall, representative for Waringah, attended an exclusive girls school in Mosman and later pursued a career in the Olympics—which evidently is not a cheap hobby. It is no doubt that these women worked hard for their status and their jobs, but it doesn't hurt that they are boomer ‘Nepo Babies’. Although these women arrive under the veneer of a progressive shift from the now conservative Liberal party, it is important to remember that they still represent pockets of wealth and privilege—pockets which will have more voice and more bargaining power than ever before.
These now independent seats of Kooyong in Melbourne's East, Wentworth in Sydney's East and Goldstein in Melbourne's South have a long history of being represented by candidates from the Liberal party. Due to this, the demands and needs of wealthy electorates have been treated the same as ones with less wealth—some of these being outer and regional areas. As Monique Ryan, newly appointed representative for Kooyong declared, the former representative Josh Frydenberg has never once crossed the floor during his tenure—thus solidifying that when parties vote, they vote together. This means that it is often harder to fight for what an electorate needs and wants when a representative is affiliated with a party. These 6 independents now have more voice as part of the crossbench and will therefore be able to voice the opinions of these wealthier electorates better.
Dai Le, the new member for Fowler, is in stark contrast to these 6 women. She represents the very best of what Australia has to offer, fleeing from Vietnam as a refugee and building a life from scratch in the Western Suburbs of Sydney. She acted as deputy mayor for Fairfield City and has diligently worked for her community. Beating Kristina Keneally (Labor) and thus breaking the parties' hold on the seat, she touts that she was asked by the community to act as better representation for their beliefs. An easy feat considering the fact that Keneally was “parachuted” into the seat and was expected to be an easy win. The electorate is uniquely multicultural, with over 50% of its population being born overseas. Her victory in the seat is unsurprising, considering that her Labor opponent was appointed as a candidate despite the fact that she had never lived in the area. Le has been a cornerstone for her community and her service is easily distinguished from the work of the teal representatives.
Although it is undoubtedly a step in the right direction to have the inclusion of educated and well-respected women in parliament, it does call into question what it will mean for people of colour, women of colour and less wealthy electorates. Will those on the margins of society be swept under the rug once again whilst the wealthy reside secure in their mansions, safe in the belief that they are doing their part for humanity? Are these women just manifestations of white feminism who were brought forward on the premise of climate change and transparency? These women claim to approach politics with a caring and inclusive attitude, let us hope they remain conscious of those who have no voice.
This piece was submitted to Farrago as an opinion piece.
Photo: AP Photo/Mark Baker.