Parachuting controversial Liberal candidate Katherine Deves into the seat of Warringah held by independent Zali Steggall was a failed move for the Liberal Party, says a Liberal senator and LGBTIQ+ activists, with Saturday night’s national victory to Labor regarded as a clear rebuke of divisive politics.
Ms Deves was the captain’s pick of outgoing Prime Minister Scott Morrison in the formerly safe Liberal seat and quickly became known for past controversial comments she had made about transgender people.
The move was seen by some as a way to appeal to socially conservative Liberal voters in other electorates, but Saturday’s election result suggests the strategy backfired.
Ms Steggall retained the affluent Northern Beaches seat after a more-than four per cent swing against the Liberals. Ms Deves gained just 32.4 per cent of the first preference vote, a swing of minus 6.6 per cent.
This was even lower than the first preference vote of 39 per cent gained in 2019 (down from 51.5 per cent in 2016) by Tony Abbott, who held the seat for 25 years until his high-profile defeat to Ms Steggall.
Liberal senator for South Australia Simon Birmingham, a prominent moderate, said Ms Deves’ loss “sends a message about what Australians believe when it comes to issues of respect, of inclusion, of diversity”.
“To now see tonight’s Liberal vote go backwards and appear to be going backwards to the tune of 7 per cent, I think sends a very clear message in the case of Warringah,” he told ABC News on Saturday night.
“That message is Australians want people to respect their lives but they also have a strong and profound respect for the lives of others and the circumstances of others.
“I fear that the impact in Warringah may have had something of a contagion effect on candidates in adjacent Liberal seats that actually do hold the right values who may be paying a very dear price for that seat.”
A swing towards the independents was mirrored in neighbouring seat Mackellar, which was gained by independent Sophie Scamps following a 16.3 swing away from the Liberals.
Independents have now gained at least six seats to hold a new total of nine. These include the traditionally safe inner-city Liberal seats of Wentworth and North Sydney in Sydney and Goldstein in Melbourne, which have all been gained by women candidates running on platforms of climate change and integrity.
Senator Birmingham said the Liberal Party would be forced to look at the issues of inclusion and diversity to win back seats.
“We have to ensure that people understand the party appreciates those values,” he said.
A rebuke of division and a vote for inclusion, activists say
Nicky Bath, Chief Executive Officer of LGBTIQ+ Health Australia said Saturday night’s election win showed the majority of Australians are seeking more inclusive leadership.
“The messaging about trans and gender diverse women and young people during the campaign was divisive and incredibly harmful. The election results show that the majority of Australians are seeking new leadership that is more inclusive and want action on a number of issues,” she told SBS News.
“Hopefully now we can have meaningful and well-informed conversations about the health and wellbeing needs of all trans and gender diverse people to improve their lives.”
Mama Alto, CEO of Transgender Victoria, told SBS News the result in Warringah should be seen as a wake-up call for Australians to do better.
“We are pleased that this time, in this electorate, the disgusting tactic of using trans and gender diverse people as campaign fodder was unsuccessful. However, the dreadful impact on mental health remains, and we call upon politics and the media to do better than the damaging and unnecessary cruelty we’ve seen recently.”
Meanwhile National LGBTIQ+ group Equality Australia said it was clear voters across the country had rejected the politics of division.
“This election campaign, some have tried to divide the community, using the lives of one of the most marginalised groups of people in the country in a cynical attempt to win votes”, Anna Brown, CEO of Equality Australia, said in a statement.
“Politicians and commentators have spread ill-informed and alarmist views about trans people — particularly trans women and children — in an effort to undermine their ability to participate equally in our society and to wind back the hard-fought gains of the LGBTIQ+ community.
“But tonight’s result — particularly in Warringah — is a stunning rebuke of the politics of division, and another affirmation that the vast majority of the Australian community believes that every one of us, no matter who we are, whom we love, deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.”
Equality Australia conducted polling in marginal NSW seats of Wentworth and Parramatta during the campaign, at the height of the controversy about Ms Deves’ now-deleted tweets.
The polling found that a majority of voters in Wentworth nominated climate change, the economy or national security as their top election issue, while voters in Parramatta nominated cost of living, health and climate change.
In an interview with Sky News Australia on Sunday, Ms Deves said she was proud of her performance in the election given the scrutiny she faced during her campaign, and she would continue to push for the Liberal Party to return to its traditional values.
“I think the Liberal Party needs to get back to its Liberal values, and I think maybe this is the start of that,” she said.
In a statement on Sunday, Ms Steggall hailed the swathe of independent women who had gained seats on Saturday night.
“A wave of community independents has washed away complacent party politics, and now a record number of capable, smart and compassionate women are sitting at that table. A caring, collaborative, community crossbench is our new reality – and it is truly phenomenal,” she said.