Helen Haines and Zali Steggall (Images: AAP)

Recent allegations of sexual assault and misconduct in Canberra may not be enough for conservative electors to switch their vote from the Liberals to Labor. However, increasing levels of interest in grassroots community organisations like Voices of Wentworth indicate that they could vote for an independent.

Despair with “business as usual” politics has led to the creation of non-partisan community groups around the country, aimed at promoting accountability and transparency in the political process. Most use the name “Voices of” (or “Voices for”) and are now active in Wentworth, Mackellar, North Sydney, Riverina, Cowper, Boothby and Groom.

All have benefited from the campaign advice from their counterparts in Indi and Warringah, whose support helped to send Helen Haines and Zali Steggall to Canberra.

Some of them have received funding from Climate 200, a climate-focussed, non-partisan organisation which backed winning candidates in the 2019 election. The group was set up by environmental campaigner and adviser Simon Holmes à Court and has received some funding from tech billionaire Michael Cannon-Brookes. Voices of Wentworth has been given moral support from family members of former Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull.

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Wentworth has been in the spotlight ever since independent Kerryn Phelps’ win in the 2018 byelection following Turnbull’s retirement. Although Liberal Dave Sharma won it back seven months later, the electorate is now the country’s third most marginal.

Sharma provoked a storm of criticism on International Women’s Day when he was photographed handing out pink flowers to female commuters.

Voices of Wentworth spokesperson Kath Naish yesterday told Crikey that the group was “born out of frustration of voters not feeling heard or represented by their federal MP”.

“Most of us organising here and around Australia are women,” she said. “Dave Sharma handed out flowers for a photo opportunity on International Women’s Day when what we need is action to end sexual harassment, safe schools for girls, equality for women in the workplace.”

Naish says that members of the group see a crisis of leadership in Australia and don’t believe it will be addressed by the major political parties.

“We’ll need to deliver that leadership ourselves and we strongly encourage all female voters to consider very carefully who they vote for at the next election.”

Liberal MP Nicolle Flint is standing down at the next election and will not recontest the South Australian seat of Boothby. Chair of Voices of Boothby Roger Henderson says that the recent revelations of sexual misconduct in politics would make an early election much less likely.

“We were anticipating an early election, but there won’t be one now,” he told Crikey. “[The revelations] have exposed the lack of competence of many of the people who work for MPs and highlighted the limited capacity of many of the politicians.”

Members of the group sensed this was a real watershed moment, he says.

“There’s a window of opportunity and a sense that there might be a change.”

Guardian Australia journalist Katharine Murphy wrote an incisive column on the weekend in which she shared a “basic insight about Morrison that you might find useful. This prime minister speaks almost exclusively to one cohort of voters: men at risk of voting Labor”.

But what if Morrison’s looking in the wrong place? What if he should be speaking to the women at risk of voting for an independent?

Independent and minor-party candidates are becoming increasingly visible. With Craig Kelly’s resignation from the Liberal Party, there are now seven lower-house crossbenchers.

The Morrison government now has only a one-seat majority in the lower house and will rely on the “tainted vote” of besieged Queensland MP Andrew Laming to stay in office. Laming has been accused of bullying and harassing women and taking “upskirt” photographs. His opponents will capitalise on this in order to maintain the rage of women voters and their allies.

Two weeks ago, three-quarters of the women surveyed for Guardian Australia’s Essential Report agreed with the statement that “what is happening in Canberra is relevant to all women”. This survey was taken before the revelations about a male staffer masturbating on a female MP’s desk and other examples of sexual misbehaviour. A total of 73% of female respondents agreed that “it’s time women are believed when they say they are assaulted”.

The problem for the government is that there is a substantial voting gender gap. According to the most authoritative survey on Australian electoral habits, the ANU’s Australian Election Study, 45% of men gave their first preferences to the Liberal Party at the 2019 election while only 35% of women did so.

Labor received 37% of women’s first preferences compared to 34% of men’s while the figures for the Greens were 15% women and 9% men.

Yesterday Morrison used a cabinet reshuffle to give female ministers a greater say in his government and announced budget spending measures as part of a policy initiative to improve the treatment of women.

Will it be enough to persuade Australian voters that he is serious about raising the status of women? At the next election we will find out.

Would you vote for an independent candidate? Let us know your thoughts by writing to letters@crikey.com.au. Please include your full name to be considered for publication in Crikey’s Your Say section.