30 January 2024

Integrity first for new community independents party, policies to come

| Ian Bushnell
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man and woman standing in a park

Independents for Canberra founders Thomas Emerson and Clare Carnell: time to shift the balance of power. Photos: Ian Bushnell.

Another push for a team of independents to contest the ACT election in October is underway, with strong links to Senator David Pocock.

The Independents for Canberra Party will be launched on 11 February at a public town hall event at the RUC Club in Turner, backed by Senator Pocock, independent West Australian federal MP Kate Chaney and former independent ACT MLA Michael Moore.

The pair behind the new party is an adviser to Senator Pocock and founder of gym alternative Praksis, Thomas Emerson, and Clare Carnell, a barrister, ANU lecturer and daughter of former Liberal Chief Minister Kate Carnell.

Ms Carnell is also married to John Lane, son of former ACT Liberal leader Bill Stefaniak.

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Mr Emerson says he will stand as a candidate, while Ms Carnell says she wants to support competent candidates who are ready to deliver for the ACT.

They say the success of community independents such as Senator Pocock and the Teals at the last federal election inspired them to form a new political force to find and support candidates outside the main parties.

The pair says they are responding to community members who are dissatisfied with the current Labor-Greens Government but don’t see the Canberra Liberals as a viable alternative.

After listening to community calls for change, Mr Emerson said he was putting his hand up as a candidate.

“I’ve been speaking with community leaders representing diverse groups of people across the ACT and there’s a big appetite for a community-led independent movement at this year’s election,” Mr Emerson said.

He said the government had stopped listening to people, the Greens were now a party of government, and many MLAs were not visible in their communities.

“This government has been in power for 22 years. More community involvement in how decisions are made is well overdue.

“Things like making every voice heard, not acting for vested interests but in the interest of the community, genuine accessibility so we have MLAs that are actually available to their community, who take action on the basis of what they’ve heard from those communities, and then are answerable for those decisions.

“Canberrans want change and we deserve better representation. It’s time to shift the balance of power in the ACT.”

Thomas Emerson is the only declared candidate yet. More are expected to be announced in the coming weeks.

However, the new party still did not have public positions on key issues such as light rail.

Nor could it say which major party it would support in government.

“We’ll have more to say about policy closer to the election,” Mr Emerson said. “We haven’t had time to have conversations with people across the community and to collect the evidence to develop solid views on those issues.”

When it came to preferences, voters would be asked to put independents first and then have a free choice.

Ms Carnell, who publicly backed the Yes campaign in the Voice referendum, is a Liberal but has since left the party, said Independents for Canberra wanted fresh perspectives, not career politicians.

She said the party was not a flash-in-the-pan operation or something the pair had dreamed up overnight.

“We’ve got a smart, sophisticated, and I think well thought out strategy for success,” Ms Carnell said.

Ideally, it would like to win a seat in each of the five electorates, but that would depend on the number and calibre of the candidates chosen according to strict criteria, with integrity at the core.

Ms Carnell said the party would occupy the sensible centre, saying the left-right paradigm was not useful.

“We want candidates who have never considered entering politics – that’s a good thing,” she said.

“There are talented people all across the ACT who see Canberra’s potential and would make fantastic MLAs.”

But Chief Minister Andrew Barr said independents needed to say what they stood for and who they would support in government well before polling day.

“The question really will be on what platform, what values are they seeking election,” he said.

“The people who fudge on that, the independents who don’t give a straight answer to that question are likely running on someone else’s agenda.”

Independents for Canberra is calling for supporters, volunteers, candidate nominations and RSVPs for its first town hall through the party’s website, www.independentsforcanberra.com.

Senator Pocock, Ms Chaney and Mr Moore will all speak at the 11 February meeting.

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This is the third independents initiative to be announced this month.

Small business advocate Peter Strong and public servant, medical scientist and diplomat Ann Bray declared their candidacies just after New Year.

Two weeks later, former Woden Valley Community Council president Fiona Carrick, who ran a credible campaign in 2020, announced that she also wanted to put a team of viable candidates into the field, probably including herself.

The common thread is a belief that while change is needed, the Canberra Liberals are not the answer.

Independents for Canberra say they are already reaching out to other independents to maximise votes in October.

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So let me get this right no policy, no candidates. Sounds like no clue either just a name that is meaningless you can’t have a party of independents because that means they just vote any way they see fit so work against each other or they are a party and have discipline but are not independent at all. What a joke

“Independents for Canberra Party” are not independants, they are a political party, they even have the word party in their name. So they will do what Pocock wants them to do

It is no secret and there has been a bit of a buzz amongst Canberra Liberal supporters at Clare Carnell’s emergence as a possible candidate at the forthcoming ACT election. Bright, bubbly and personable, Ms Carnell resembles her equally charming mother Kate Carnell who was the most successful and only Liberal chief minister our city has ever seen.

Ms Carnell has understandably severed her connection to the Canberra Liberals and emerged as the face of the local independents. She is spruiking an unknown candidate with an equally high-profile name from the Labor side of politics. She is also promising more to come. It does make me shudder though at the thought of Ms Carnell maybe taking advice from her father-in-law and what that more to come means! One hopes that if we wake up after election night and find we have newly elected Independents we are not also getting Bill in the mix! Yes, I know, Bill is loud, he is boisterous, cuddly and loveable all those quirky little things I often hear about him. I also have recent and vivid memories of Bill’s attempted comeback to ACT politics, his bizarre letters in local media and the state of the Canberra Liberals when he was leading the party. This was a time when Zed Seselja emerged from the background as the bright light which has seen the party’s significant and devastating move to the right. It is why the party is unelectable today and lost its only senate seat.

It promises to be an exciting 9 months to come. What could possibly happen next or go wrong?

Kate Carnell was not the only Liberal Chief Minister of the ACT. Trevor Kaine & Gary Humphries???? As for the claim she was the most successful Chief Minister, I remember names such as Teflon Kate being used a lot. Her reign came to an end over claims of mismanagement of the Bruce Stadium redevelopment. And who could forget her infamous role in blowing up Canberra Hospital and deciding that it should be a community event (Oops, sorry about the kid who died). Deciding who is the best Chief Minister is a subjective thing based on your own political bias.

Capital Retro10:37 am 30 Jan 24

For someone who is a rusted on lefty, how would you know if there is a “there has been a bit of a buzz amongst Canberra Liberal supporters……”, Jack D. ?

Maybe I should have been a little more nuanced in my wording megsy. Kate Carnell was the most successful leader of the Canberra Liberals and the only Liberal leader ever elected to serve as chief minister. She was elected chief minister at two elections. The current Canberra Liberals are a shadow of what they were back then.

Kate Carnell was smart, charismatic and popular. She was progressive in her outlook and made some good policy decisions. Her background in medicine saw her take an informed and compassionate position on social issues, particularly drug laws and other reforms, which Labor supported but unfortunately never progressed when elected.

It is unfortunate for ACT voters that the current lineup of Canberra Liberals has descended into a party of rag tag right wing nutters who will never win government!

I may be a rusted on Labor voter CR but that doesn’t mean I don’t have friends on the Liberal side. I have plenty, and many of them are good people and they talk! Some of them never stop!

HiddenDragon9:00 pm 29 Jan 24

“The pair says they are responding to community members who are dissatisfied with the current Labor-Greens Government but don’t see the Canberra Liberals as a viable alternative.”

This is now looking like the essential sales pitch of independents – or maybe that should be “independents”.

It dodges the crunch question of which of the major parties would an independent candidate support to form government and what issues/policies would be crucial in determining that support. Candidates who hope to do anything more than garner some protest votes (but almost certainly well short of a quota in a crowded field) will need to clear that up well before election day.

Too many independent candidates creates the risk of none of them being elected at all. I’m not saying that because I’m against the concept. It’s just a reflection on our electoral system. The major parties have a core of rusted-on electors who will vote for them regardless of what they say or do. This gives those candidates an advantage because it ensures they get a quota (or close to) without really trying. The independent candidates will be competing for votes from the remainder (the swinging voters, the unaligned and those frustrated with the major parties). If independents end up splitting the non-party vote and start taking votes off each other, they risk being eliminated early during vote counting. It won’t matter how wonderful their policies are or how good their intentions are if they get eliminated before preferences are fully distributed.

I can’t help but wonder if some of those claiming to be independents, but who have some history or loose links to one of the major parties are actually there to try to soak up the votes from the disgruntled group and to, in effect, try to minimise any independents being elected.

The question is what are they offering as an improvement on the current lot of incompetents? That includes Labor, Green and Liberal MLAs none of whom offer anything much worth having.

An on the nose Liberal Party rebranding exercise.

Capital Retro12:58 pm 29 Jan 24

Ann Bray has a rainbow on her website.

GrumpyGrandpa12:15 pm 29 Jan 24

In a left-leaning town, the reality is taking seats from the Canberra Libs, secures victory for the ALP-Greens.

If the Independents think they can make a difference, they’d need to take 7-8 seats from either the ALP or Greens.

I agree that independents will need to take some seats from Labor/Greens. However, I don’t see, given they are backed by Pocock and want to occupy the “sensible centre”, they (independents) are going to be taking seats from the Liberals. I think if they can take 4 seats from Labor/Greens, independents would probably (I’m assuming – possibly, erroneously, Libs will keep their 9) hold the crucial balance of power. I don’t believe that’s beyond the realms of possibility, as there are a lot of disenchanted Labor / progressive voters, who while they won’t accept the viability of the Libs in government, would not be averse to “sensible centrist” candidates.

GrumpyGrandpa9:24 pm 29 Jan 24

Hi JustSaying,
I had figured 7-8 ALP-Greens on the basis that there are 6 Greens and the ALP has 1 more MLA than the Canberra Libs.

In my balance of power scenario, I worked on the basis of either the ALP or Canb Libs being in power, with support of the Independents.
In hindsight, pretty unrealistic.

You are correct.
If the Canberra Libs retained their 9, the Independents only need 4 seats.
To be honest, I think that result could be a good outcome.

@Grumpy Grandpa
Yes I too think that would be a good outcome. In unicameral parliaments, like ACT, vesting absolute power in a single party/coalition means accountability is questionable. It’s fine to talk about a strong opposition, but without the ability to force the issue (e.g. via balance of power) even the best opposition leader will be impotent. Hence the importance of independents.
As many have said, the next 9 months will be interesting.

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