Margo Kingston

Margo Kingston

Co-publisher and editor-in-chief at No Fibs
Margo Kingston is a retired Australian journalist and climate change activist. She is best known for her stint as Phillip Adams’ ‘Canberra Babylon’ contributor and her work at The Sydney Morning Herald and #Webdiary. Since 2012, Kingston has been a citizen journalist, reporting and commenting on Australian politics via Twitter and No Fibs.
Margo Kingston

HERE IS MY interview with journalist Margot Saville on her book ‘The Teal Revolution’, exclusively focused on documenting the origins and progress of the campaigns of what the MSM and Simon Holmes a Court now call ‘the Teals’, defined by Margot as “middle class white women who live in and now represent very affluent communities”.

She wisely divided her reporting on the origins and processes of the Sydney, Melbourne and Perth ‘Teals’ due to their stark difference of approach. Her biggest contribution to the movement’s history is on Wentworth, where key players threw open their diaries to help her document the manoeuvring of several, at first disparate, wealthy residents to achieve their goal of defeating Dave Sharma over climate.

That gave her a big scoop, the first indication that far from keeping their distance, the Turnbulls played a crucial role in shaping the Wentworth campaign. While Malcolm Turnbull effectively endorsed the ‘Teals’ in a speech to Harvard University during the campaign, he refused to say who he would vote for and denied any involvement in the Wentworth insurgency. However…

“…on 13 October (2020), a formidable group gathered around Lucy Turnbull’s kitchen table. Over finger food and tea, Atkinson, Palese, Richter and Turnbull talked about how to take action on climate change. Turnbull had also invited along someone who was unknown to the others: climate investor Kirsty Gold, from the Warringah campaign. Gold, one of the most important figures in the community independent movement, laid out for the group all the details of the (2019) plan to get rid of Abbott.

At one point Malcolm Turnbull wandered into the kitchen to get a cup of tea, asking, ‘What are you lot cooking up?’ They didn’t enlighten him.”

Margot Saville

She also adds detail to the extraordinary account by Brook Turner in his Independents Day book of how Wentworth imported Zali Steggall’s entire 2019 professional campaign apparatus, including campaign manager Anthony Reed, who helped shape Climate 200’s post 2019 election strategy and sat on its Advisory Council.

There’s another scoop too. Holmes a Court launched Climate 200 publicly in August 2021, pitching it as a donation and professional campaign expertise vehicle that funded and offered to help to local community independents campaigns – committed to climate action, integrity and gender equity – once they had found a candidate and could prove grassroots volunteer support and fundraising prowess. And he stated after the election: “Once the campaigns had formed their teams, selected candidates and had runs on the board with fundraising, volunteers and events, they were ready to engage with Climate 200.”

Yet in May 2021, before the group Wentworth Independent began looking for a candidate or Holmes a Court took Climate 200 public, key local power players had a ‘crucial meeting’ with Holmes a Court and Climate 200’s executive director Byron Tau.

“Atkinson had not met the Climate 200 pair, who had been invited by Grimes and Smith (from the Smart Energy Council). She was keen to make a good impression – Climate 200 would only fund one independent candidate in each electorate, and she again wanted to make sure their group was chosen.”

After Smith assured her after the meeting that Climate 200 would come on board, three rich residents put $50,000 each into a private company, imported Steggall’s campaign team and began their search for a candidate.

For me, Margot’s book laid bare a divide now concerning some in the broader movement, that Holmes a Court’s ubiquitous mainstream media presence as the face of the movement and his ‘Teal’ branding of what began as an Australia wide grassroots community movement has eclipsed Cathy McGowan’s ‘community independents’ descriptor and which stresses local ownership of the process and local capacity building for long lasting change. 

According to their website, post election Climate 200’s official strategy has expanded to include funding and assisting community start-ups “to kickstart their community campaigns”

With Climate 200 ‘Teal’ independents now entrenched in the mainstream media narrative, we may be at a point where this diverse, Australia wide movement has shrunk in the public’s mind into simply being a blue-ribbon ‘Teal brand’. It doesn’t take a genius to realise funding from Climate 200 could be a net negative to community independents campaigns in suburban, regional and rural seats. 

Perhaps a separate non blue-ribbon donation vehicle that contributes to the #IndiWay of building local capacity in a local social movement created for the long term, may now be needed. 

There are tensions in the movement, folks, as there must be when the big end of town meets grassroots community movements and one percenters’ money and clout meets grassroots energy. I keep thinking of the Eric Hoffer quote:

“Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.”

We shall see. 

As a reporter and once sort of insider in the movement, Margot’s book added new information, but for interested observers it is a breezy, fact-filled history of the networks which created what might be a revolution in Australian politics and the misconceived, counterproductive campaign attacks of a Liberal Party shocked that its blue-ribbon base turned its back on a Party which thought it safe to turn its back on them.