HD: Our first question is somewhat of a loaded question, but John Howard recently called teal independents ‘anti-Liberal groupies.’ I was wondering how comments like these from a former Prime Minister make you feel. Particularly in regard to running for politics and for you Allegra specifically given your family’s history as well [with father being a Liberal MP]

AS: I think I’ve responded to this on Twitter. I’m not anti-liberal but I’m pro climate, inclusion and prosperity. Future focused economy. It’s not for me it’s about the party. It shows a lens that is party focused and that is not what I am seeking. I’m seeking good policy outcomes. For me, it’s a lens which he is seeing world through. I’m saying I’m not seeing the world through the lens of the Labor or Liberal parties. I’m seeing it through the lens of what most people on the street are seeing it through, which is that they want a better country. That is my perspective.

In terms of it in the context of my father formerly being a Liberal MP. There’s a lot of things I have said e.g., me supporting the NSW Liberal Party. It’s about the policies rather than the party. I support the policies in relation to climate, they do a good job. He [John Howard] is missing the point. That’s my view. Zoe, what is your perspective?

ZD: As a lifelong swinging voter, I think it’s very simplistic as someone who sees the costs and benefits of both major parties and is genuinely seeking to represent a community that has put me in this position. I find it extremely dismissive as well, given it’s not like we have just materialised out of nowhere - the reason we are sitting here talking to you – it’s because communities decided they wanted to change the way things are done. I think it’s quite dangerous from a political strategy perspective to be so dismissive of people like us who are running as representative independents who are genuinely trying to represent our communities and take things forward.

I think the other thing I would say about it is increasingly we are seeing quite gendered language towards the people standing as independents and that’s really unfortunate. You know, ‘anti-liberal groupies’ has coincided with so-called teal independents being called Charlies Angels, Spice Girls was a phrase I heard yesterday. Puppets. And fake independents.

HD: It all feels pretty sexist….

AS: It does. Dave Sharma in his speech and campaign launch speech said he’s not doing it as a vanity project. And I just thought wow! It’s not a vanity project for me either. And it was pretty dismissive of me. Am I a serious person? Yes. Am I doing it seriously? Yes. I was flabbergasted to be honest that he would use that sort of language in relation to me standing as I would never use it towards him. I know he’s doing it whole heartedly, but I just don’t think he is on the right track. So I did find that extremely surprising.

Also the same idea that we are all puppeteered by some man. It’s like, far out. I’m a 44-year-old woman who is the mother of three and have run organisations.

ZD: It’s the notion that we are not in control of what is happening and that someone is pulling the strings behind the scenes and that inevitably, that person is a man. It’s incredibly simplistic and it’s designed to disempower people like myself and Allegra who are trying to do things for our communities. In doing that, it undermines the community as well.

Coming back to my first point, from a political strategy point of view, it fails to recognise what is happening and that is actually emblematic of this government who has failed to listen to our communities-  and that is why we are sitting here having this conversation.

HD: And I think, like you alluded to before Allegra, we have seen a trend of women running as independents across every corner of Australia. Do you have any theories on what you think has caused this? Women being sick of being disservice by the major parties?

ZD: It is interesting that you see a group of women of similar age with similar backgrounds who think they can make a contribution to particularly toxic politically environments when it comes to female participation. Certainly, for me there was a level of frustration being built up over time over lip service being paid to gender equality and that has come to a head over last couple of years with the Me Too movement and what we are seeing in Australian Parliament.

Beyond that, research from Sex Discrimination Commissioner that clearly outlines entrenched sexual harassment in the workplace for example. Then the cherry-picking of that report by this government. Talking is one thing and suggesting they will accept that report - and then choosing not to implement it.

When someone came to me and asked if I wanted to run as an independent, my initial response was ‘absolutely no-way’ - I’m not going into politics because that whole environment is revolting. But I’m also struck by the opportunity to reframe things through an optimistic lens and try and change things from the inside rather than being cranky from the outside and feeling like we aren’t making any progress.

HD: Building on this, a major question we got from our readers was: do independents really have any influence? Would we be better off voting for parties?

AS: I think independents have the potential to have enormous influence. And a good example is in this seat we had Kerryn Phelps who passed the Medevac law during her 9 months in the role. That legislation was driven by her and she got it through the House and the Senate. That is an enormous accomplishment for someone who has been in the role for less than a year.

Contrast that with the current member who is a back bencher and has been there for three years. And who has achieved more for the country? Independents have an opportunity to uniquely protect their communities as well as build valuable policy. We can also keep issues alive that the major parties don’t want to talk about. You can see the legacies of independents who have stood up for better government.

ZD: I think it’s important to recognise at the moment we have a stuck two party political system. It’s not as if the functioning of the major parties is creating progress, so why would we keep a system that is failing?

We are seeing opportunities to try shift this ‘stuckness’ and inertia to have people on the cross bench who are reasonable people who can be reasoned and pragmatic. I would argue that it’s the reverse of the question that is being asked. It’s a group of independents who can create that progress that people are looking for. The level of influence depends on the arithmetic – if it’s a hung parliament independents can push through important legislation. Role for raising uncomfortable issues. As an independent, I’m happy to be the person who raising difficult issues.