October 3, 2022
How a Group of Female Independents Aims to Revive Australian Democracy

Their campaigns have been bolstered by money from a group called Climate 200, which has collected more than 12 million Australian dollars, or about $8.5 million, from 12,000 donors to go to 22 independent candidates.

That has led critics to claim they are not really independent. But Ms. McGowan and others, including Simon Holmes à Court, a founder of Climate 200, say the traditional major parties just don’t get that they’ve been disrupted.

The independents and their supporters describe what’s happening as a 21st-century movement, organized on Slack and Zoom, crowd-funded, decentralized and committed to pragmatism.

“Whatever the issue may be,” Ms. McGowan said, “what they want is action.”

For first-timers like Ms. Spender, who has worked in education and renewable energy and for the fashion company founded by her mother, Carla Zampatti, campaigning with new community groups often feels like her swim toward a distant buoy with energetic neighbors — exhausting, a little scary, but also rewarding.

After her ocean jaunt in Bondi, she walked to a nearby cafe with all the others. Waiting in line for coffee, Ms. Spender warmed up near other swimmers and a few dogs wearing Allegra scarves. For the next hour, she did less talking than her volunteers.

“This is the alternative to a career politician,” said Jonathan Potts, 51, who said he spends five hours a day volunteering to get Ms. Spender elected. “It’s a different philosophy — we want to look after long-term interests rather than party interests.”

In interviews, many of the independents said they were initially reluctant to run, but had been surprised by how fun it had been to work with an ideas-first, community-driven approach.

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