Most ABC viewers, listeners and readers surely would be aware of Monique Ryan, the so-called teal independent who is attempting to defeat Liberal Party deputy leader Josh Frydenberg in the seat of Kooyong in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs in next month’s election.
But few, if any, of those who get their news from the taxpayer-funded public broadcaster would be aware that Dai Le is running as a genuine independent against Labor’s endorsed candidate, Kristina Keneally, in the seat of Fowler in Sydney’s western suburbs.
The ABC has given the teal independents – most of whom are in receipt of funding from the Climate 200 group, which is presided over by multi-millionaire Simon Holmes a Court – a terrific (and largely uncritical) run of late.
Take the seat of Mackellar, for example, on Sydney’s northern beaches. On Wednesday the ABC 7.30 program’s James Glenday did a story on the seat, which the Liberal Party’s Jason Falinski won in 2019 with a vote of 63.2 per cent after the distribution of preferences. Glenday interviewed Falinski, his independent challenger Sophie Scamps and Zali Steggall, the sitting independent MP for the neighbouring seat of Warringah. In other words, it was a one-sided “tag team” political wrestle – with Scamps and Steggall on one side and Falinski alone on the other.
Then on Thursday Lisa Millar interviewed Scamps on ABC TV News Breakfast. That is, two interviews in two days on ABC programs that have large audiences in relatively well-off seats such as Mackellar and Warringah.
But what about Le? In 1975 after the fall of the non-communist government in Saigon to the communist regime in Hanoi, Le’s mother fled Vietnam with her three children by boat. They spent four years in Hong Kong before settling in Australia as refugees with visas in 1979. After Keneally was “parachuted” into Fowler from her Scotland Island home in Sydney’s northern beaches, Le decided to nominate as an independent to run against Labor’s endorsed candidate for Fowler. Like Scamps, she has a chance of entering the House of Representatives.
In 2019 Chris Hayes, Labor’s popular member for Fowler, won 64 per cent of the total vote. This means Le needs a swing of about 14 per cent to defeat Keneally. It’s not an easy task. But neither is that of Scamps – she needs a swing of about 13 per cent to defeat Falinski.
And then there’s the matter of personal support. There is evidence that some traditional Labor supporters in Fowler were upset that the Labor Party political machine imposed Keneally as the candidate without a rank-and-file preselection ballot. Moreover, it is unclear to what extent the good people of Cabramatta and Liverpool will readily accept a blow-in from Scotland Island as their federal member.
Le, who was for a time a Liberal Party member, is deputy mayor of the Fairfield local government area. She is being supported by independent Fairfield mayor Frank Carbone, who comfortably defeated his Labor Party opponent in last year’s council election.
On any objective analysis, the local Le must be given a chance of winning – as must Scamps in Mackellar. Glenday travelled from the ABC Sydney studio in inner-city Ultimo to the Dee Why beachside to cover the Falinski-Scamps contest. But the western Sydney-based Le has yet to be interviewed on any prominent ABC news or current affairs programs. She has spoken to Sky News, Seven, Nine and SBS.
The ABC’s full-on coverage of Scamps and its all but cancellation of Le serves as a reminder of the soft run the Holmes a Court independents have had in the campaign so far. For example, Ryan was interviewed by Patricia Karvelas on ABC Radio National Breakfast on Thursday. She received some challenging questions. But Karvelas did not query the independent candidate for Kooyong about an unsensitive and unprofessional message she put out as recently as 2017.
As The Australian revealed on April 22, in a 2017 Facebook post Ryan was shown sharing a meme replicating Adolf Hitler’s 1925 manifesto Mein Kampf by using a photo of Donald Trump on the cover of a pretend book titled Mein Covfefe. The reference was to the “covfefe” typo made by Trump some years ago.
Sure, Ryan apologised for the Hitler reference. However, it is unlikely a conservative political hopeful would have got away so readily with such an error of judgment. It was an issue Karvelas did not want to address. But this comes down to misjudgment.
Not so Zoe Daniel, the independent candidate for Goldstein in southeast Melbourne. Not only did she appear to take the side of the Islamist Hamas regime in Gaza when it rained rockets on Israel in 2019 by signing a statement calling for the end of “both-siderism” in reporting of the Israel-Gaza conflict. But she also refused to renounce the statement, merely stating that it could have been worded differently.
However, Daniel has conceded she should not have accused Trump of “satisfying his wealthy Jewish donors” when US president. Also, Daniel’s campaign manager has compared Scott Morrison with Hitler.
Jo Dyer is standing as an independent candidate for Boothby in suburban Adelaide. She praised an article by a left-wing academic who called for the creation of a single state covering Israel along with the areas ruled by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. This would lead to the destruction of the Jewish state.
We know something about the likes of Ryan, Daniel and Dyer because their left-wing comments are on the public record. But we know little about many so-called independent candidates since, for the most part, they have avoided answering questions when asked.
A fair and balanced coverage of the election campaign would lead to the likes of Ryan, Scamps, Daniel and Dyer being thoroughly quizzed about their political intentions. And it would result in independents such as Le, who are contesting Labor Party seats, receiving appropriate coverage on the ABC and elsewhere.