Crossbench crossbenchers parliament Zali Steggall bob katter
Crossbencher Zali Steggall (centre) at an induction of new MPs (image: AAP/Lukas Coch)

As newly elected federal politicians prepare themselves for federal parliament’s first sitting week, we take a look at who the minority party crossbenchers are in the House of Representatives. What exactly should we expect from this motley bunch?

Helen Haines, Member for Indi, Victoria (independent)

Dr Helen Haines has worked as a medical researcher, nurse, and midwife for more than 30 years in rural Victoria. Her campaign and policy vision involves advocating for regional Australia and she has called for strong federal action on climate change and renewables. In her electorate, the town of Yackandandah aims to completely run on renewables by 2022.

Haines supports a federal integrity commission to weed out political corruption and has called for an end to Australia’s offshore detention program and for refugees to be settled quickly. She has said the effects of climate change have impacted rural Australia the most:

In rural areas, we see the changes right before our very eyes. There’s not a question about whether something is happening because we know it is. The question is how do we adapt to that so our livelihoods are not destroyed. I think that farming and rural communities can talk about climate in a less adversarial way with other politicians because it’s central to our lives.

A key sticking point with the Coalition is their support for the Adani coalmine in Queensland. Haines said she does not want to see it go ahead: “The smart money is on clean energy, not dirty coal”.

Zali Steggall, Member for Warringah, New South Wales (independent)

Zali Steggall won the affluent North Sydney seat of Warringah that had been long-held by former prime minister Tony Abbott. Steggall, a former skiing Olympian, won by a 13% margin. She campaigned for strong action on climate change, starkly contrasting with Abbott who has questions for the “so-called settled science” of climate change. 

Mr Abbott was, I think, very negative when it came to progress on climate change policy and I think now is an opportunity for Mr Morrison to get on with the job.

With Abbott now seemingly out of the way, Steggall will have to contend with the Coalition’s climate policy. However, she leans towards supporting the Liberal Party having said if the result had been a hung parliament, she would stand by them.

Andrew Wilkie, Member for Clark, Tasmania (independent)

Andrew Wilkie, a former Australian soldier and ASIO officer who blew the whistle on the flawed intelligence that led to the Iraq war, was reelected with 72.1% of the vote in Clark. Wilkie has held the seat — previously called Denison — since 2010, and has maintained he will not be making deals with any of the two major parties, but will weigh up policies on merit. Last year, he put forward a protection bill for refugees and this year he rejected Labor’s proposition to have more sitting weeks in parliament. He’s also been outspoken on the issue of US military action against Iran:

Australia must not be party to any US military operations against Iran … Surely we learned from Iraq to not meddle in the Middle East or kowtow to the US. There is an alarming parallel between what’s going on in Washington now and what went on back in 2002. 

Wilkie has also advocated for “meaningful” climate change action and wants to see a path towards 100% renewable energy. This wall also be a sticking point for the Coalition as they do not intend on extending their renewable energy target after 2020.

Rebekha Sharkie, Member for Mayo, South Australia (Centre Alliance)

The Centre Alliance politician has maintained her seat as MP in Mayo. Sharkie has advocated for greater protections for the Murray-Darling River and the need for the banking royal commission. In her first speech as member for Mayo in 2016, she also specifically advocated for young Australians:

The reality is: if we value older Australians being looked after well into their retirement, we need to ensure we have full youth employment, not youth unemployment at more than double the mainstream unemployment rate. It is simply future-proofing … In this parliament we need to address the lack of opportunities for young people if we want to address the effect of our aging population.

Sharkie has no problems disrupting the status quo. Recently, she claimed that on budget night Coalition MPs held “political fundraiser dinners in the Parliament charging up to $800 a seat”. She said “the ‘people’s house’ shouldn’t be used for personal/political financial gain” and vowed to push to change the rules.

Bob Katter, Member for Kennedy, Queensland (Katter’s Australian Party)

Bob Katter is no stranger to parliament, and has held his seat since he was first elected in 1993. In this time he has advocated for the agricultural and manufacturing industries, opposed privatisation and has called for all asylum seekers who arrive by boat to be turned back. Katter has courted controversy for his views about Muslims and immigrants — notably, last year he applauded former senator Fraser Anning’s “final solution” speech — and his association with far-right groups.

Absolutely 1000% I support everything he [Anning] said. His speech was absolutely magnificent. It is everything his country should be doing. It was solid gold.

Katter has threatened the Coalition government with supporting Labor’s plan for additional sitting weeks if PM Scott Morrison does not act on banking reforms and introduce a body overseeing lower interest rates for cattle farmers

Adam Bandt, Member for Melbourne, Victoria (Australian Greens)

The former lawyer has held the progressive seat of Melbourne since 2010, and is the only Greens member in the House of Representatives. Bandt is the climate change and energy spokesman for the Greens, who recently introduced a policy calling on large companies to report their carbon risk.

There’s no time for craven coal-hugging in a climate emergency.

Similar to some of the other crossbenchers, Bandt and the Australian Greens are at odds with the Coalition, with the Greens’ policy aiming for 100% renewable energy by 2030.

Will the crossbench be able to keep the major parties in check? Send your thoughts along with your full name to [email protected]

Peter Fray

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