News from the front desk: When we first brought you news of the Voices of movement last year it was not much more than a few whispers around town. Today those voices are starting to sound like a roar and the government is rattled.
By Tuesday we learned that independents would stand in 40 federal seats and challenge 22 Coalition MPs.
One of them is Nicolette Boele and at last, she’s from this industry. About time, many would say.
Boele certainly didn’t plan to stand for her local seat of Bradfield on Sydney’s lower north shore, but by the time we caught up with her last week, it was clear she’d embraced the challenge with both hands.
Her background would have helped. Boele cut her teeth on climate change and has dived deep into the responsible finance sector. Among an impressive list of gigs in her CV is the Clean Energy Finance Corporation where she worked with Oliver Yates the helm (who also tried his hand at standing as an independent against Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in Kooyong).
There was a stint at the Investor Group on Climate Change where she focused on how to “get more capital flowing into assets and enterprises to build our new economy” and most recently at the Responsible Investment Association Australasia where she was executive manager, but started as a volunteer. “When I started there were three of us; now there’s nearly 20 and that’s why I felt I could leave,” she said.
Further back was the Climate Venture Capital Fund; consultancy Banarra; the Low Carbon Carbon Investment Registry, the Climate Institute and the NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water.
So what made her take the leap into politics?
Boele had done the “big resignation” thing, she said. It was a kind of bookmark to more than a few years working in human rights, finance and “some really exciting” work putting purpose into finance.
Momentum for climate change was building now in the global finance industry in Europe. The US under Biden has made it a “truly global industry”, and this has given her confidence to leave her work and try something new.
“I’m one of those people who looks to what’s next,” she says.
“I’m a bit of a fixer and while I hadn’t really planned to go into politics…when you’ve got a bit of time on your hands you can reconnect with the world, and engage in some serious thinking time.”
“Until I got this email”.
“You live here and you’re experienced on women’s issues and on climate action…why don’t you stand for Bradfield?” the email said.
An incident that made her connect the dots when her 19 year old son asked who he should vote for, and she answered, “don’t bother”.
It made her realise this was our democracy she was talking about and perhaps she should do something about the answer she gave her son.
“I’m possibly more socially progressive than even some people in the Greens I talk to. But I have this dry economic rationalist part of me. I don’t want the government spending the public’s money on carbon capture and storage.”
It’s “ideological contortions – it makes no sense.”
With time to think, reflect, get off the treadmill, there was also time to be piqued – and motivated – by another incident. It was when she bumped into her local member Paul Fletcher.
She asked whether he, like Matt Kean, the NSW Liberal Treasurer, thought his party could do better than aim for net zero by 2050. But Fletcher answered: “Don’t estimate how difficult it was to get that deal.”
Boele wanted him to say more, that he cared about our kids’ future.
“I needed him to say, yes it’s hard but I care. But he didn’t.”
Business by and large gets it, Boele says. They have emissions reduction targets, China included.
“And yet we are letting down communities in the Hunter Valley [in NSW] and the Galilee and Bowen basins in Queensland where we know structural adjustment is happening.”
In 2022 independents are go
“The reason I’m not joining a party is because the independent angle in 2022 is the weapon to unlock.
“I don’t want to throw out the party system, but they [the two major parties] both seem to have failed.”
Boele says that by their nature coalitions struggle with decision making because they need to keep their junior partners happy in order to stay in power.
“There is corporate capture. Corporate capture means you don’t get decisions in the national interest.”
[Read Scott Ludlam’s book Full Circle for more on that, but be prepared to become deeply uncomfortable.]
“Both Labor and Liberals and even the Greens have been unable to deliver meaningfully on climate policy in the past 25 years because they’re captured by single interest groups,” she says.
Will the independents take another shape?
With the number of independents growing so strongly and the chance quite a few of them will make it to Canberra, is there a chance they will start to look something like a new party? Or coalition?
After all the practical horse trading needed to get key policies through is part and parcel of politics, right?
Boele says no. The difference is that for the Liberals-Nationals Coalition the alliance is a “real blood contract”. The junior partner needs to guarantee supply for the government.
With independents Boele says there will be no new party. She can envisage a lot of collaboration or “almost aggressive sharing” of knowledge on issues such where to find resources or how how to get elected. Read the book Ruth McGowan, Get Elected, she suggests.
Most importantly though, “It’s about bringing integrity.”
The thing about Scott Morrison compared with former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard, Boele says, is that with Howard you might not have a lot in common with him, but you knew where he stood.
“When I look at the current PM’s record – I’m trying to be generous – I can’t think of one legacy item, not one.”
The Bradfield electorate
So, what engages the Bradfield electorate that stretches from around Chatswood and Castlecove to Hornsby and Asquith?
Around 48 per cent of the electorate was born overseas, Boele says. Many have moved there to access good schools for their kids and it has the highest number of tertiary educated people – not the wealthiest like Wentworth’s demographic.
Their concerns include over development, the economy and lifestyle – and they tend to vote Liberal.
Among the messages she’s hearing is that people don’t want Australia to go the way of the US. Which is piercing given the rising anti vaxxers “freedom” movements.
But climate change is Boele’s primary motivator. That and integrity.
On climate action, she says, the parties have tried but they still can’t do what’s needed to be done, she says.
Simmering away is the impact of the Glasgow climate talks that managed to get a net zero commitment by 2050 which “doesn’t mean anything”.
“It’s been 25 years since we signed the Kyoto Protocol. It’s absolutely about fixing climate and the nub of it is restoring integrity to parliament.”
Key to her promise if elected is to be make decisions in the national interest and to be “aggressively transparent” and restore integrity. “That’s the only reason I’m running.”
But there’s no illusion this path she’s on will be challenging.
“It’s an uphill run,” she told The Fifth Estate, “but extremely exciting.
I can’t believe how many people in the electorate are really wanting a change.”
Boele says the margin is pretty big in favour of the sitting member – has a 62 per cent primary vote. This means she needs 12 per cent of his vote which she thinks is well possible.
Overall she’s hoping for 25 per cent but is aiming for 30 per cent, just to be sure.
“This is no longer the safe seat it used to be. It has a lot of disgruntled women.”