Allegra Spender and Jillian Broadbent

News from the front desk: How can you mistake the scent of election friction in the air? The Voices Of movement is on the rise – six candidates so far and in Sydney this Saturday Sydney’s Lord Mayor will face off again for another term, among other local council elections.

There was a surprise waiting at Allegra Spender’s Independents campaign launch on Saturday for the high-profile Liberal seat of Wentworth in Sydney’s east.

It’s not an impossible task for Spender. Her bid is to unseat Dave Sharma in the seat previously held by former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and already once taken by Independent Kerryn Phelps and then lost with just a 1.3 per cent margin.

The plan for The Fifth Estate was to check out the mood and tap some of the feelings of the people who turned up to overflowing at the Paddington RSL with some vox pops on the Iphone.

Bianca Spender, Alexander Schuman and Allegra Spender. Photo: Tina Perinotto

It’s an interesting time. A federal election is looming, prime minister Scott Morrison, is looking increasingly uncomfortable, wedged even, on climate as the inevitable forces of change start to usurp the Howard-like “relaxed and comfortable” image he likes to cultivate.

Maybe time’s up.

After all this is a post COP26 world, coming soon after the “Code Red” report from the International Panel on Climate Change, and the world’s politicians and business leaders suddenly seeming to act as one, sitting up straight and paying full attention.

You could almost say there’s a bit of FOMO fever about (fear of missing out) with so many people pouring into business opportunities with a gusto not seen since the dot.com boom.

With this mood and background we expected the big driver in the Voices Of movement (flagged first here in July) would be climate change. Showing our bias? Probably.

The surprise was not so much Spender’s campaign but what’s driving a number of other Independents or Voices Of campaigns around the country, all in Liberal held seats.

It was citizen journalist and former Sydney Morning Herald writer Margo Kingston who we spotted in the crowd who came up with the observation.

Kingston these days runs the No Fibs Independents Day website which last election was partly funded by climate activist Simon Holmes à Court.

She’d recently been to the launch of two other Voices Of candidates.

“The two launches I’ve been to so far – one in southern Sydney and another in Hume – there was one issue where there was a standing ovation; it was integrity,” she told us on our clip.

“People are desperate to clean up politics. They know it’s not working; they can see the corruption, they can see the rorts and they want action. To me particularly in the country where climate change is a big issue but not the burning issue, across the board it’s integrity.”

What was exciting, she said was that each of the campaigns was in Liberal seats and each driven by grass roots Liberal voters who wanted change.

“This is the magic of this movement. The six people selected by the Voices of across the country so far are all women; not one of them has been involved in organised politics before. They don’t’ want to have a career and get a big lobbying job after. If this works – and God know there will be big forces saying it can’t work –  it will refresh and invigorate and repair our democracy.”

Allegra Spender’s campaign launch. Photo: Tina Perinotto

In Wentworth Kingston believes Spender is the candidate that the locals will vote for.

Certainly, Spender was rapturously applauded by the more than 400 attendees who filled the Paddington RSL to overflowing. As you’d expect, perhaps, of a Liberal blueblood in a Liberal stronghold.

Her father and grandfather were both Liberal politicians, her mother is late fashion icon Carla Zampatti, she’s a former head girl at exclusive Ascham School, a graduate in economics of the University of Cambridge and a former employee of McKinsey & Co.

Plus showing her green colours, she’s chair of the Sydney Renewable Power Company, which has featured in these pages from time to time.

Firming up the brand, Spender was introduced on stage by high profile businesswoman and company director Jillian Broadbent, a close friend of her mother, board member of the Reserve Bank of Australia and chairman of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

Spender spoke with quiet but firm passion – the Liberal Party had lost its way; her plan was to point out that climate change offered environment challenges but also economic opportunities.

“Wentworth is not radical, and I am not a radical at all,” Spender assured the crowd in case they were nervous. (The Voices Of movement had not escaped s snarking from the conservative media pointing to the environmental connections of some of its supporters.)

But was trying to protect the climate radical?

Spender didn’t waste the opportunity.

It was time, she said for a principled informed and community driven leadership.

“Wentworth is an amazing place,” she said, “it’s diverse, it’s vibrant and it’s innovative.

“People ask what my father thinks about me running against ‘his’ Liberal Party…. and I’m not.

“I’m continuing to uphold the values my father and grandfather stood for and that Wentworth has always stood for.

“Today’s Liberal Party is not the same party as the Liberal Party of my father and grandfather…They weren’t radical; Wentworth certainly isn’t radical and I’m not radical at all.”

“Today’s Liberal Party is not the same party as the Liberal Party of my father and grandfather,” Spender said to thunderous applause.

“They weren’t radical; Wentworth certainly isn’t radical and I’m not radical at all. But there are those trying to paint me and the Independents as such.

“And I say to them, protecting our environment for our children is not a radical choice. Ensuring that our businesses are at the forefront of global innovations is not a radical choice.

“Having equal representations of women and men in parliament and public life is not a radical choice.”

More thunderous applause.

“And making sure our institutions have integrity, transparency and accountability is not a radical choice.

I’m a strong person and speaking out publicly and passionately because I can’t stand it anymore.”

According to Blair Palese, one of the volunteer organisers for the campaign, “Since Allegra’s launch, there has been such incredible community support for her and having an independent candidate. We’ve had more than 200 new volunteers sign up since we launched and a number of locals offering to host fundraising and networking events for Allegra and offering expert issue advice on key community issues.”

Palese said the biggest concerns so far from the community are “definitely climate change, our government’s failure to address it threatening economic opportunities and integrity.”

Sydney goes to the polls, among other local governmetn elections

Since The Fifth Estate started Lord Mayor Clover Moore has ruled the CBD and its environs. There are worthy candidates this year, perhaps more so than in past elections. But to watch this woman in action, her tireless energy, her steely resolve when it comes to opponents, especially –  in what we care about most – on issues of sustainability, is to see a rare form of leadership these days.

If Moore is prepared to stick out another term in office, then we think it’s hers for the taking.

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