Professional women channel Goldstein in teal revolution


Australian suffragette Vida Goldstein would have cheered on Saturday night. Goldstein, who stood five times for election to the Senate pre-1917 had a distrust of major political parties, which she and Rose Scott regarded as designed by men to support men’s interests, writes Women on Boards Executive Director Claire Braund.


Goldstein would have been further delighted that teal independent Zoe Daniel took a once safe Liberal seat in the electorate named after her. Daniel was just one of seven teal independents who took the heartland Liberal seats of Mackellar (Sophie Scamps), Wentworth (Allegra Spender), North Sydney (Kylea Tink), Kooyong (Dr Monique Ryan), Curtin (Kate Chaney wins in Julie Bishop's former seat)  and Warringah (Zali Steggall elected for a second term) on Saturday 21 May.

Not since the general election of 1943 have major parties fallen below 26 per cent of the primary vote. In that mid-war-election major parties won 73 per cent of the primary vote as there was an unprecedented number of independent candidates - 18 of whom were women – and almost 20 per cent of women voters supported non-major party candidates.

The elections of 1931 and 1934 were also high-water marks for support for independents and non-major party candidates at 24.5 per cent and 27.6 per cent. This followed the introduction of compulsory voting in 1925.

We cannot underestimate the early work of Goldstein and others via the Women’s Federal Political Association (WFPA) and early suffragette newspaper Woman Voter which educated women on the power of their vote and how they might use it in a discriminatory manner. 

These early feminists were tireless and brilliant campaigners for women using their collective voice at the ballot box to transact meaningful change.

Fast forward to 2022 and the professional women of Australia have used their power to oust sitting Liberals and ensure the two major parties receive less than 70 per cent of the primary vote. Further independent wins in Fowler (Dai Le), Clark (Andrew Wilkie) and Indi (Helen Haines) brings to 10 the likely number of true Independents in the next Parliament, with 15 or 16 expected on the cross benches.

Much has been written about Morrison and how the anger he elicited from professional women around Australia, seemed to fall on deaf ears. As Annabel Crabb wrote in her election blog this morning:

 The history of human congress is littered with the stories of men who wake up to Dear John letters after years of not listening properly when the women in their lives say they’re unhappy.  But Scott Morrison – who received God knows how many final warnings from Australian women over the past year but chose every time to continue bulldozing happily along — seems to have achieved something novel, having unmistakably on Saturday night received a John Deere letter. 

However, giving angry women voters equal rights at the ballot box is not the whole story as first they needed to organise, as Clare Wright, professor of history at La Trobe University, reminded us in The Guardian yesterday:

But it was not only women’s votes that mattered. Just as critically, it was their organising abilities that attracted the attention of political pundits. Deakin himself conceded that the Labor leagues had worked hard to enrol female voters – and that it was mostly women who worked as the recruiters. “Their women pass from house to house”, Deakin noted, “enlisting those of their own sex … an army of unpaid volunteers, discipline, unity … and the complete efficiency of its machine. 

It is worth remembering that in the early 1900s women were organising their political campaigning using methods adopted in 2013 by Cathy McGowan’s highly successful ‘Voices for Indi’ - door to door, kitchen table conversations, local fundraising networks and word of mouth. 

Or as Wright put it: “The ‘teal wave’ of centrist independents, backed by the grassroots, community-fuelled “Voices of” movement, represent the historic power of women’s systematically coordinated, organised, laser-focused anger. Not placards. Not street protest but realpolitik.”

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