How can an independent MP be effective and influential?

History has shown that independent MPs, through their role in the Australian Parliament, can achieve significant results both for their electorate and for the country.

History has shown that independent MPs, through their role in the Australian Parliament, can achieve significant results both for their electorate and for the country.

The power of an independent is twofold in that independents:

  1. Are never in opposition! Independents can negotiate and work across and with the entire Parliament, other independents, the government, opposition and across party lines and with minor parties. Adam will focus on negotiating outcomes that are aligned with the priorities in the New England Policy Platform;
  2. Can increase their influence by collaborating with industry, community and government leaders from their electorate on major priorities and projects that have the broad backing of their electorate (which again, are those identified in the New England Policy Platform).

This highlights how, as an independent, I can work clearly in the best interests of the electorate rather than interests of a party, coalition partners, lobbyists or big donors.

Adam believes there is growing concern about the recent dysfunction of politics and the Parliament. It has been characterised by leadership spills, faction fighting, party politics and a bias toward big donors, business and mining. Many believe the time has come to create a parliament and political culture which truly works for the good of the country and people.

While it is true that there have been only a few independents in the Australian Parliament, there is strong evidence that they have played an important part in getting the Parliament to work together.

Independents such as Tony Windsor, Cathy McGowan, Peter Andren, Dr Kerryn Phelps, Andrew Wilkie, Rebekha Sharkie, Ted Mack, Julia Banks and Rob Oakshott have shown that they can wield significant influence for both their electorates and the country as a whole. This has been the case even in majority governments, though it becomes especially powerful when there is a strong cross-bench and minority government.

Outcomes achieved for the New England by independent Tony Windsor, MP include:

  • Funding for the Australian Equine & Livestock Events Centre, which was achieved with the support of national equine industry bodies, Tamworth Regional Council and the NSW Government
  • Creation of the School of Rural Medicine at the University of New England, which was achieved by a broad delegation of New England organisations plus the support of two other independent Members of Parliament
  • Creation of the National Broadband Network, Rural Hospitals Multi-purpose Services, Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), Clean Energy Finance Corporation and Biodiversity Fund
  • Tamworth Regional Entertainment Centre (with Tamworth Country Music Festival)

Independents have played a very important role in keeping the Parliament accountable and ensuring that matters of public importance are raised. They have achieved changes to legislation, brought forward pioneering legislation and required debate about nationally-significant issues.

Examples include:

  • Challenging MP conduct, remuneration, superannuation and other entitlements
  • The ‘Water Trigger’ legislation and amendment to the Biodiversity & Conservation Act
  • Supporting asylum seekers and the Refugee ‘Medevac’ Bill
  • Challenging and opposing Australia’s war involvement in Iraq
  • Addressing ‘cross-border’ issues with inconsistent and conflicting regulation across state-territory government boundaries
  • Marriage equality
  • Protecting media diversity in rural areas
  • Initiation of the Inquiry into Regional Development & Decentralisation
  • Introduction of the first climate change legislation (2010) as a Private Members Bill
  • Opposition to privatisation (Telstra, Snowy Hydro)
  • Ensuring that international ‘fair trade’ agreements and tariff regimes ensured that worker conditions and environmental standards were upheld
  • Private Members Bill to challenge the Northern Territory Intervention
  • Opposing genetically modified crops and organisms
  • Introduction of a private member’s bill for Citizen-introduced referenda (as in Switzerland)
  • Challenges to the market power of major businesses, such as Coles and Woolworths in the grocery and retail sector

Cathy McGowan, MP for Indi, has proven that an independent, working in strong collaboration with their electorate, can achieve an extraordinary volume of work and influence. During Cathy’s two terms of Parliament she has:

  • Made 478 speeches in Parliament
  • Introduced 10 Private Members Bills
  • Presented 15 Petitions on behalf of Indi
  • Proposed 8 amendments to Government bills
  • Raised 67 questions without notice (verbal) and 111 questions in writing (with notice)
  • Arranged 8 Ministerial visits and hearings to Indi
  • Put 34 motions to the Parliament, and
  • Supported 13 advocacy groups from Indi to work at Parliament House.

Adam intends to enable this kind of collaboration through the creation of New England ‘Cabinets’ with a focus on the major projects, policy areas and the wider electorate. These Cabinets will involve key industry, government and community leaders to work together with him on the priorities that are identified in the New England Policy Platform.

Lastly, it is important to bear in mind that the Australian Government is large and much more than just the Parliament. The Parliament is really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of opportunities for the New England to achieve successful outcomes. By working together for the future of New England, it is possible to influence:

  • All of the portfolio areas. (There were 18 in the most recent government.)
  • All of the 182 agencies, departments and units of government
  • The hundreds of inter-governmental, multi-governmental, international bodies, forums and committees
  • The thousands of policy issues raised and determined in the political arena
  • Collaboration with other electorate, industry, government and community leaders.