The independent candidate for the seat of Wentworth in Sydney’s east, Allegra Spender, has launched her campaign to take the blue ribbon Liberal seat with a message that action on the climate crisis is an economic as well as an environmental imperative.
Speaking to to a crowd of more than 450 at Paddington RSL on a wet Saturday, Spender said she had been motivated to run to be a voice that truly represented the concerns of Wentworth voters.
“Everyone knows we cannot afford one more electoral cycle of spin, denial and inaction on climate change, inaction on women’s representation and inaction on the economic opportunities of the green revolution,” she said.
“If the local member is not up to the task then he needs to get out of the way.”
Spender, whose father, John Spender, was a Liberal minister, and whose grandfather Sir Percy Spender served in the Menzies government, said that “today’s Liberal party was not the same party of my father and my grandfather”.
“Wentworth is not radical and I am not a radical at all. But there are those who are trying to paint me and this wave of independents as such.
“To them I would say: trying to protect the environment or our children is not a radical choice; ensuring that our businesses are at the forefront of innovation is not a radical choice; having equal representation of women and men in parliament is not a radical choice; and making sure that our institutions have transparency and integrity is not a radical choice.”
Spender said that she would be supporting the target advocated by the Business Council of Australia of between 46%-50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and warned that unless Australia moved more swiftly in this decade it faced a “brutal transition” to a decarbonised economy after 2030.
She also said she shared Wentworth’s concerns about the treatment of refugees and the lack of progress on reconciliation with First Nations people, drawing cheers.
She also vowed to ensure money was spent by government on “what is important to Australians, not to win marginal seats”.
She said she would draw on her business experience and develop evidence-based policies.
Speaking earlier to the Guardian she said: “For me and for a lot of people in Wentworth, there is deep frustration about Canberra. The values of the people here are not being represented.
“The most potent example of this is climate and it’s both the environmental issue, which is incredibly important to the people of Wentworth, but it’s also an economic question.
“The people of Wentworth have a wide range of involvement in the economy and they expect Australia to be leading the way. We are going to miss out on the investment opportunities and the innovation opportunities if we don’t act now and very decisively for 2030.”
Spender said that while the Liberal MP for Wentworth, Dave Sharma, a moderate, might say the right things on climate policy, he had not been able to deliver.
Spender, the daughter of the late fashion designer Carla Zampatti, announced her intention to run two weeks ago.
She is still running her mother’s eponymous fashion label but is in the throes of handing over to devote her energies fulltime to winning Wentworth at the next election, expected sometime between March and May 2022.
She has also been involved in the Sydney Renewable Power company, which installed large-scale community solar projects.
“Cop 26 was the nail in the coffin for me, but there are other issues including integrity in government, whether it be a federal Icac with teeth, or the scandals we have seen in sports rorts, car park rorts,” she said.
The former independent MP Kerryn Phelps, who held Wentworth after winning a byelection in 2018 but lost it to Sharma in 2019, has backed Spender.
“She’s grown up in Wentworth, she was head girl at Ascham and a standout student, she’s run a business and she’s got substantial lifelong connections with Wentworth and its community,” Phelps said.
“I am happy to provide her with advice during the campaign.”
The Australian businesswoman Jillian Broadbent introduced Spender at the campaign launch, highlighting another campaign theme: the need for equal representation of women in federal parliament.
Broadbent was a trailblazer on ASX boards. She is currently a member of the board of the Reserve Bank of Australia and the chair of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. She has been a director of the ASX, SBS and Qantas.
Phelps became the first woman ever to represent Wentworth, which had been in Liberal hands (and occupied by a male) since it was proclaimed in 1901.
“The Liberals in 2013 had 23% [women MPs], this year it’s 22%, it’s going nowhere,” Spender said. “You look at that and think, ‘when is this going to change?’
“I have girls and when I talk to them about politics and tell them we have only ever had one female prime minister, they ask, ‘Why is that?’ And it’s a really good question.”
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Asked whether she thought the independents would hold the balance of power and how she would use that power, Spender said she did not want to speculate.
“The most important thing is to stand true, to stand up for what the people of Wentworth want.”
She said that was clearly more action on climate policy and integrity in politics. But she added: “Wentworth is a very economically focused electorate and they want to see good economic management and management that is good for business.”
If the independents don’t hold the balance of power, Spender said there was still much she could do as an independent to highlight sensible policy and pursue issues such as donations reform, which the major parties were reluctant to tackle.
She pointed to the examples of Zali Steggall’s climate bill and Helen Haines’ national integrity commission bill, which have shown what could be done in concrete terms.
“I will vote in the way that the community wants,” she said. “I will consult, I will listen to experts.”