Top Researcher Leaps Sideways into Politics–and Wins!

  • Research skills can lead in all sorts of directions.
  • When it really matters, children can be powerful. (Kids: keep up the pressure on climate!)

Australian voters have just kicked out a climate-denying, coal-loving Federal Coalition Government. This is the remarkable story of a distinguished medical researcher who was so enraged that she stood as an independent. And won! She defeated Josh Frydenberg, the Treasurer, in his formerly safe seat, despite his campaign being backed by the vast resources of the Liberal Party machine.

Quick Background

The ‘Liberal’ Party used to be a true liberal centre-right party. It has often been in power, in coalition with the rural-based National Party. In the last couple of decades the Liberals have shifted to the right. In the last decade the Coalition has been in power, in thrall to fossil fuel interests and becoming increasingly Trumpian under the leadership of Scott Morrison.

The Medical Researcher

Dr Monique Ryan

Dr Monique Ryan was Director of Neurology at The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, 400+ pubs, h-index of 51, leader of a highly successful research team. She loved her job but was becoming increasingly worried about the existential threat of climate change and Federal Government inaction. The climate-related anxiety of her 13 year old son weighed on her.

In this interview two months before the election she recounts how last year she responded to a full-page ad placed by Kooyong Independents, a community group seeking a candidate to stand for Parliament. She decided to apply and was selected–whereupon, she reports, her son was the happiest he’d ever been. In mere months Ryan and the group enlisted top professionals to help raise funding and develop a campaign. Astonishingly, 2000 local people, in trademark teal-coloured tee-shirts, volunteered and knocked on all 55,000 doors in the electorate. Ryan nominated climate action, government integrity, and gender equality–all areas of egregious failure by the Coalition Government–as central for her. For more, see her campaign website.

Frydenberg, long touted as a future Prime Minister, had to return from campaigning around the country to defend his home patch. It was a furious campaign, with big resources deployed by both sides. Ryan won and is now heading to Canberra.

Ryan One of Six

Kooyong is an affluent, inner-city electorate, long a Liberal stronghold. Most remarkably, the Kooyong story was repeated in five other such electorates around Australia. In all six cases, a successful woman stood aside from a professional career and campaigned on climate action and one or two other core issues. And won!

Finally

My conclusions are the two dot points I started with. (And well done to Ryan’s son…)

BTW, Greens representation increased from 1 to 4 in the Lower House, 9 to 12 in the Upper House: Increased climate action at last, tho’ never sufficient.

In hope,

Geoff

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