Just before 9pm on election night, the utterly safe and wealthy Liberal seat of Mackellar on Sydney’s northern beaches fell to a well-known local GP named Sophie Scamps running as an independent.
The victories for the so-called “teal independents” would keep coming, and their success in such tightly held Coalition seats has changed a government, shocked the major parties, and may force the Nationals into an ugly leadership fight.
More than 1,000 kilometers away from Dr Scamps’ victory party was Sandy Bolton, watching the coverage from her Noosa home.
She’s no psychic but nevertheless she saw it coming.
Ms Bolton pried the safe LNP seat of Noosa from the LNP in 2017, running as an independent with teal signage and shirts.
She might be described as Australia’s first teal independent — and is still the only independent MP in Queensland parliament.
“It was like something I knew years ago,” she said.
“We need to see different politics and a different parliament — and here we go, at a federal level I think we’re seeing that.”
‘It won’t be just blue seats next time’
In 2020, she fought off the major parties – particularly the LNP – to not just hold, but increase her support with a 12.5 per cent swing.
She said in her case, the community wanted someone who could fight for their community, without having to grapple with the goals or policies of a larger party.
Ms Bolton said, with Australians seeing an option beyond the two big party tents, the new independents could change everything for politics and politicians.
“I think you may see more of that, but not necessarily targeted next time to the particular blue [Liberal] seats, there could be some targeting the red [Labor],
“The pathway has been made clear how you can affect change.”
Major party smears during campaign ‘horrendous’
Since her election, Ms Bolton has had to chart her own course working with a Labor government while representing a traditionally conservative electorate.
She voted to support Labor’s bill on legalising abortion in 2018 and voluntary assisted dying in 2021 – though both were conscience votes and received some LNP support.
Ms Bolton says she does not abstain on votes, but instead decides “what it delivers… for Noosa”.
That policy brought her into the crosshairs in 2020 when an LNP candidate ran a campaign attacking her for voting with Labor “over 120 times”.
It failed to mention that she had voted with the LNP 104 times in the same period.
Far from chipping away at her popularity, her support increased.
“It was horrendous,” Ms Bolton said, of the campaign against her.
“Our community had had enough of that type of politicking and smearing.
“Voters saw it exactly for what it was, and rejected it again.”
She said she watched the same tactics play out nationally in this election.
“Instead of relying on nasty tactics during campaigns and during term, what you see is a good quality campaign with candidates that are very committed and very strong.”
Teals could survive ‘if they do a good job’
Former University of the Sunshine Coast political lecturer Bron Stevens said in Queensland “the teal effect” went to the Greens, potentially because people were still reeling from the south-east Queensland floods.
“I think climate change has been brought home with a really big bang,” Dr Stevens said.
“They didn’t feel like the Liberals were taking it seriously.”
But she said with Labor in power, future independents may seek to take seats from the Albanese government if it failed to deliver for their communities.
She points to Kristina Kenneally losing to Independent Dai Le after she was parachuted into the previously safe Labor seat of Fowler.
Now the question will be if the new independents can follow the path walked by Ms Bolton, Ms Scamps and others to hold on to their seats at the next election.
“Once you get in, if you do a good job and you keep consulting that community and acting in their interests, you’ve probably got a good chance of keeping your seat,” Dr Stevens said.
“I don’t know that they’ll keep all of them.”