I WRITE HAVING just concluded a short four month election campaign in the sixth safest Coalition seat in Australia, Bradfield, in North Shore Sydney. Amid the high-profile battles in surrounding MacKellar, Warringah and North Sydney, our modest community campaign flew under the radar.
Yet my campaign achieved the largest primary swing against a sitting Liberal MP – 15.2 percent on first preferences, and a swing of 12.3 percent two candidate preferred (TCP). In 2019, Paul Fletcher’s primary vote was 60.33 percent; it dropped to 45.2 percent. In 2019 his TCP vote was 66.56 percent; today it is 54.2 percent.
So Bradfield, Australia’s fifth wealthiest seat, went from ‘very safe’ to ‘marginal’ in four months. How?
Since established in 1949, the electorate of Bradfield (which stretches from Chatswood and Castle Cove in the south to Hornsby and Asquith in the north) has had just five MPs, all Liberal. It’s an understatement to say that the area is traditionally conservative.
But being conservative also means caring deeply about others and nature; people move to the area for the great schools but stay until retirement for the wonderful bushland and surroundings. People here realise that climate change puts that and so much more at risk. And conservatives value decency, transparency, good governance – which all feels at risk without oversight. We had been taken for granted.
- Was relatively short at four months
- Had less funds compared to the blue ribbon ‘teal’ campaigns and the major parties
- Received little national media coverage
- Lacked profile outside of climate policy and responsible investment circles
- Involved an inoffensive incumbent
Our campaign messaging was based around principles, for people working or living in residential aged care, for small business owners without workers and for students wondering why they have a debt before they start in life and yet will likely never be able to afford their own home. This messaging was built on the work developed over twelve months by Voices of Bradfield who took the time to listen to and understand the issues at a local level, rather than guessing from national polling.
In communicating these principles we put people at the centre of our conversations, rather than politics – people care about people but less about politics. The selected principles were chosen by me because these were authentically what I can deliver based on my track record.
We ran on positivity, integrity and authenticity fuelled by our 600 volunteers and 2000 supporters who engaged the community on my behalf so we could cut through the BS to offer something different. Something better.
The time my volunteers and I spent in the electorate listening to and talking with voters to understand their concerns and priorities was another key ingredient.
We raised $350,000, not nearly as much as that raised and spent by the many others. In the end though, it wasn’t money spent in my community which helped achieve our incredible result. It was the time spent in the electorate by me and my unpaid volunteers listening to and talking with voters to understand their concerns and priorities, time which Mr Fletcher did not come close to matching, no doubt because, based on previous results, it did not seem necessary. Just four days out from the election, he was campaigning for Dave Sharma in Wentworth.
We made history on election night
This strategic blunder is yet another example of the modern Liberal Party being out of touch with its traditional supporters with an entitlement expectation of support without hearing or responding to the concerns and values of the community. In Bradfield, those concerns were similar to so many other electorates: people were disappointed with the Coalition Government’s lack of commitment to transparency and integrity, its performance on aged care, its Covid response, childcare, women’s safety and other aspects where women have had to do the heavy lifting and bear the brunt of being abandoned by their government.
And yes, they were disappointed with the Coalition’s woefully inadequate action on climate, with 34 percent of Bradfield rating it their top election issue. My frustration and disappointment on these issues drove me to stand as the community independent candidate, and voters’ disappointment and frustration drove them to switch their votes.
We made history on election night. While we knew Australia had chosen a new government, for the first time ever we didn’t know the outcome in Bradfield. We actually ‘broke the AEC algorithm’. The two largest piles of first preferences belonging to a Liberal and an Independent (instead of the ALP) forced a recount of all preference flows.
At the time of writing, two weeks after the election, counting continues and although a ‘Lib retain’ is projected, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) is yet to declare the seat.
Community-based campaigns aren’t an anomaly
The outcome is extraordinary but not shocking. The odds of achieving what we have were long, but only if you view it through a politics-as-normal lens. Our politics has changed and it’s up to the major parties to catch up with and really listen to the voters.
Community-based campaigns like mine aren’t an anomaly or likely to fade away any time soon. People don’t feel that they are being served by the two-party system and they have seen what’s possible in other electorates where real representative democracy has taken root – witness Cathy McGowan and Helen Haines in Indi, Zali Stegall in Warringah, and Andrew Wilkie in Clark. These smart, hard-working, and community-connected independents both genuinely advocate for their communities and keep the government (of whichever party) to account.
The volunteers and supporters in our area now feel empowered, and that sense of possibility will only spread. More voices and more diversity won’t create chaos, it will only improve the health and resilience of our democracy.
To quote American writer Margaret J. Wheatly:
“There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.”
I think we’ve only just started to tap into that here in Bradfield, and in Australia.
No Fibs coverage of #BradfieldVotes
Nicolette’s Boele’s launch speech ‘Change is not only possible, but necessary’ – Nicolette Boele launches in #BradfieldVotes
Twitter’s launch report Nicolette Boele’s call to action, be brave #BradfieldVotes and vote like your future depends on it
Rob Mills’ pre-election campaign report A miracle is possible in #BradfieldVotes: the high hopes of Nicolette Boele’s campaign manager
No Fibs podcast interview with Nicolette Boele it’s hard but its doable Nicolette Boele on her quest to turn Upper North Shore #BradfieldVotes independent
Rob Mill’s analysis of the #BradfieldVotes result – We did not win, but did you see what #BradfieldVotes achieved?