The longtime Liberal party member wants to take on Josh Frydenberg to start a people power campaign
— Oliver Yates, the son of a Liberal politician and longtime party member, wants to take on Josh Frydenberg in a seat once held by Robert Menzies to start a people power campaign not only in Australia, but around the world.
The former Macquarie banker, and head of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, who will confirm his intention to run in Kooyong as an independent publicly on Wednesday, says the challenges of climate change are now so serious, so pressing, that citizens need to “take out” their environment ministers when they occupy the portfolio but fail to protect the environment and the climate.
“I want, globally, to hold accountable environment ministers who have disregarded their responsibility to the environment,” Yates tells Guardian Australia.
“I want this to be a worldwide campaign where citizens take out their environment ministers if they do not care for the environment, because clearly they are not doing it anywhere round the world, and citizens are not making any progress in this.
“We all tried as business people. We’ve been good, and managed our positions, but this is serious. It’s a really serious issue that needs to be addressed.”
The newly minted independent candidate dismisses a rationale that Frydenberg, while federal environment and energy minister, did attempt to land a policy that would have reduced emissions in the electricity sector before it was scuttled by the party conservatives who took out Malcolm Turnbull as Liberal leader.
Frydenberg, Yates contends, has policy views that are out of step with the majority of Kooyong electors, and “had plenty of opportunity to stand up in relation to the environment when he was minister, or even now, as a more influential person, but he’s failed to discharge his duty in relation to environmental responsibility”.
He says the only way the Liberal party will get the message is if sensible independents are prepared to enter the arena. “It’s an important aspect of our responsibilities as citizens to take this murky field up, and play the game, to try and deliver a better outcome for each other and the globe.”
As well as sending a signal that citizens have agency when parliaments fail to provide policy leadership, Yates has bigger ambitions. He thinks the time has come to rethink the mechanics of politics in Australia. He points to other parliaments around the world that are less dominated by a rigid two-party system.
He says if he were to win Kooyong at the coming federal election, he would, for example, be open to serving in a newly elected government, or providing policy advice relevant to his professional expertise in finance and climate change policy.
“I don’t think I would able to be bound by caucus or cabinet rules, so it would be quite difficult, however I would openly offer my services. I will do that in any way … that delivers the best outcome for the taxpayer.”
Yates believes people are sufficiently sick of the status quo to be open to new ways of political representation. “I don’t think we can say the way government has operated, or the way parliament has operated in the past, is the way it is going to be going forward. That’s an assumption.
“The hold of the [major] parties when the membership is less than that of the Hawthorn footy club, and the party members don’t get to determine policy, policy is dictated by a central executive of members of parliament – I don’t think the business model under which the Liberal party currently operates is sustainable.
“I don’t want to get ahead of myself, I have a big challenge in this seat, but I think it’s crazy to always think about the world as it has been and you can’t imagine something different.”
He says a collective failure of imagination and innovation is now deadweight on the Liberal party, and has led to “cultural failure”.
“Objecting to everything has left them in a very dark place, psychologically. They won’t look out and embrace change. They resist change. The Liberal party has become a party of resisting change and that’s terribly negative for society – to have a government resist change. Change is coming in every way, and change creates opportunity.”
If Labor wins the coming federal election, and Yates manages to secure a position on the crossbench, he says he’s open to a discussion about negative gearing concessions, but wary about changes to pensions or superannuation.
On negative gearing he says: “The question is: is it right for people to negative gear 100% of their income away and have seven houses? Shouldn’t people always be paying some level of tax as they are receiving some level of services.
“I think the government or the opposition has the right to suggest reforms, and as independents, we’ll be able to offer alternative views or comments or practical changes, which they may find acceptable.”
While the candidate has big ambitions, Yates faces an uphill battle to blast Frydenberg out of the blue ribbon seat he has held since 2010. The treasurer and deputy Liberal leader tends his local turf assiduously, and won the seat in 2016 with a primary vote of 58%, which was a positive swing of 2% on the previous federal contest.
It seems unthinkable that the government would lose Kooyong, long the jewel in the Liberal party crown, and held by three previous party leaders, but last year’s state election delivered a 9% negative swing in the state seat of Hawthorn, with the seat falling ultimately to Labor.
The state seat is within the boundaries of Kooyong. “We saw the turn in Hawthorn and they refuse to listen to that electoral defeat being driven by significant inaction on climate change.”
Yates says state Liberal John Pesutto, who lost Hawthorn last year, had described voters worried about the environment as tribal. “If he wants to describe people who want to protect the environment for the future as tribal then go ahead, because it is the tribe who will take you on.”
He says he will run an open ticket, but expects Labor and the Greens to direct preferences his way. “I’m expecting that sensibly the Greens and Labor would probably understand their probability of winning here is low, and if they’d like to achieve their stated objectives of environmental action then they’d be inclined to support my campaign.
“I would be hopeful I would receive their preferences. I understand it’s an uphill battle … but we need to force this government and future governments into taking climate change seriously because they are beholden to inaction.
“I would like to see Liberals challenged on a seat-by-seat basis until they get the message.”
by Katharine Murphy | The Guardian