Female Independent Candidates Are On The Rise This Election — Here’s What 3 Of Them Are Hoping To Change

This federal election, more independents are running for parliament than ever before. Almost half of them are women. 
They’re offering an alternative for a growing number of voters that are jaded by traditional two-party politics, and many are hopeful that they will build a better future for the country. 
Female independents Zoe Daniel, Zahra Mustaf and Jo Dyer have all witnessed the lack of government action on issues like climate change and decided to put their hands up and do something about it. All three come from successful professional backgrounds not at all related to politics, and all are informed by their communities.  
They — like all other female independents — face an uphill battle. It is, for starters, much more financially restrictive if you don’t run with the support of a major party that has the money you need. Then there’s the notoriously unsafe culture of Australian politics, which has been brought to the foreground this past year.  
Still, with major parties continuing their practice of placing female candidates in seats they're unlikely to win, it’s female independents who present the highest chance for women to lead change in a newly-formed government. If they win enough seats, they could have the final say on what becomes law.
But what exactly would this newly-formed government be like? I sat down with Daniel, Mustaf and Dyer to find out, asking them about their motivations and what issues they will be fighting for. 

Zoe Daniel

Independent candidate for Goldstein, Victoria (Running against Tim Wilson)

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Zoe Daniel
When Zoe Daniel was approached by Voices for Goldstein — a community grassroots movement that's been building a movement for better political representation — to run as an independent candidate, she wasn’t so sure. 
Politics is a toxic business, and she didn’t want to spend lots of time apart from her family. But in the end, it was her kids that convinced her. 
"They were really pushy to me, saying, 'Mum you have to do something for us. Someone’s got to get in there and try and change things.'"
Daniel is backed by Climate 200, an organisation supporting independent candidates who are committed to taking real action on climate. 
“My children are currently 13 and 15, and part of my motivation for putting myself up to this is to try and secure their future. And particularly when it comes to climate policy, the big impact will be on the generation that follows me, and we have a responsibility to try to structure policy around that.”
Before politics, Daniel was as a journalist at the ABC where she did three rounds as a foreign correspondent: in South Africa, Thailand, and the US. Having reported extensively on political crises around the world, it’s no surprise she’s turned her attention to home, where she believes we need a system that holds politicians accountable. 
Currently there’s no independent body which investigates corruption in the federal public sector, like there is in NSW in the form of ICAC and in Victoria in the form of IBAC. But Daniel wants more than just a federal integrity commission. 
Instead, she’s advocating for a system of accountability measures, including a code of conduct for elected representatives, registration of lobbyists, and opening of ministerial diaries so the public knows who ministers are meeting with. “That’s a reflection,” she says, “of the sort of influence particular people and organisations are having.” 
“I think there’s a deep frustration about the lack of sincerity amongst our politicians. That is one rule for them, another one for everyone else. People are being deliberately disconnected from their leaders and I think that’s a really dangerous situation.”
As an independent, Daniel feels that she’s not tied to party positions, and there’s room for her to have conversations about topics that the major parties feel uncomfortable about. She hopes it will “also force them to potentially confront issues they wouldn’t otherwise”.

Zahra Mustaf 

Independent candidate for Jagajaga, Victoria (Running against Kate Thwaites) 

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Zahra Mustaf
When Zahra Mustaf launched her campaign, she realised where she stood. “I felt excluded,” she said, “I know where I stand with the conservative media but left-leaning outlets who were writing about the rise of independents weren’t writing about me.”
She is a proud Somali woman, a single mother, and heavily involved in her community. 
“The solution for me is that I’m part of the community and everyone there knows me.”
It’s a hard reality in a movement and political system which is predominantly white and upper-middle class, and a media that is too. But Mustaf is a firm believer that change happens from the inside. It’s that belief that almost landed her as a Liberal candidate for the same seat in the 2019 federal election, an experience she says was hostile.
“They were quite keen to have someone like me there but they had an agenda — but I’m a strong, opinionated woman.” 
Now, as an independent candidate, Mustaf wants to create change in her own way. Like Daniel, she has a strong focus on accountability and integrity. 
“Spending money and making promises to win and stay elected is very wrong,” Mustaf says. “The money should go into our hospitals and education. But money is going to be wasted and the next generation will have to pay for it.”
Her profession as an architect informs the way she thinks of the problems affecting her community, she tells Refinery29 Australia.
“I think we need to be moving away from driving. I think we can be a smart city where we can ride, train, bus. We should be moving towards investing in infrastructure that creates more jobs for the younger generation.”
For her, these pressing issues are not separate but interconnected and should be dealt with that way, and there’s serious consequences for failing to act. 
Mustaf has a 17 year-old daughter; “She’s going into the real world, she wants to have a job, but there is no secure job. Not having secure employment creates a situation where mental health, for example, worsens.”
She believes she is showing others to not feel like you have to wait for an opportunity to get involved in politics. "You can get up and do it yourself!"

Jo Dyer 

Independent candidate for Boothby, South Australia (Running against Rachel Swift)

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Jo Dyer
Jo has always been interested in politics, but apart from a preselection bid for the Labor party in 1999, it’s remained on the periphery. 
“I got pretty up close and personal with the way the machine of party politics works. That itself was a pretty bruising experience, quite an abrasive experience.” 
So, she decided to go off and live her best life, building a successful career in the arts until a close friend’s historic rape allegation against then-Attorney General, Christian Porter, brought her back. 
“I got involved as an advocate for her posthumously, given she was no longer around to advocate for herself.” 
Dyer saw the voices of victims and survivors belittled, ignored, and disrespected by a system built to protect powerful men. And then, she saw the independent movement, and people who were seeking to build an alternative approach to politics. She decided it was worth joining. 
Voices of Boothby is backing Dyer’s candidacy, and like Goldstein, their members are most concerned with the climate (she’s also backed by Climate 200).  The people of Boothby are also very concerned about intergenerational inequality, Dyer says. 
She believes younger generations are facing a precarious future and the solution is structural. “I think we have to take a step back and look at the kind of society that we’ve been constructing and what it means to be a young person within it, and what needs to change to ensure that we have a human-focused society.”
Coming back to politics after more than 20 years, Dyer also recognises the role class plays in Australian politics. Especially as an independent without the backing of a party, she says, “you actually have to be prepared to put your hand in your pocket”. 
She is disappointed by the lack of diversity in the candidates selected for safe seats by the major parties, and she doesn’t think it’s likely there will be any meaningful shift in politics or policy without more diverse voices in parliament, holding the government to account. 
For real progress on these issues, she strongly believes a change in government is the way forward. 
“We have to pin hopes on a change of government and a rest so that we can start getting structural reforms implemented at a national level that can then flow through and keep up that momentum of change.”
The 2022 Federal Election takes place on Saturday, May 21.
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