Looking around the world now, including Australia, there is no-one you could single out and say ‘yes, I’ll follow them’.” – Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke.

Bob Hawke’s intuitive comment just before the 2016 election hints at the reason behind the groundswell of independent candidates gaining prominence in the 2019 Federal Election campaign. Australia’s revolving-door Prime Ministership has led voters towards independents who they see as possessing genuine beliefs, vision and leadership in contrast to the major parties.

Why now?

Australia has had six different Prime Ministers in twelve years, shifting voters’ attitudes towards the major parties and their leaders. Both the Federal Coalition and Labor have sustained brand damage through the inability of successive leaders to manage internal party divides. Add to this the National Party’s woes thanks to former leader and Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce and you have fertile ground for voters seeking a breath of fresh air.

Against this backdrop, independents are looking increasingly attractive to voters wanting sincerity, change or simply to send a message.

Likely outcome

Many independent candidates look likely to pick up seats or act as kingmakers through preference deals in battleground electorates.

Independent candidates Zali Steggall in Warringah and Kerryn Phelps in Wentworth are both hoping to clinch high-profile victories in traditionally safe Liberal NSW seats. Likewise in Victoria, former Liberal MP-turned-independent Julia Banks is challenging Health Minister Greg Hunt in Flinders and preferences from independent candidate Oliver Yates may decide the result in Kooyong.

Among other independents, Senator Derryn Hinch is likely to hold his position in Victoria while Jacqui Lambi is struggling in Tasmania and Rob Oakeshott is launching an against-the-odds challenge in Cowper.

Will it last?

History has shown Australians seek strong leaders who will make tough decisions in the country’s best interests, even if unpopular. Menzies, Hawke and Howard were conviction politicians who stood by their views even if it meant defeat.

At the height of his power in 2004, Prime Minister Howard had full control of the Senate; voters believed in his vision, his leadership and his stable hand on the tiller.

Whoever wins the Federal election this weekend is likely to inherit one of the most unworkable Senates in decades.

Until either of the Major Parties unites behind a leader willing and able to present voters with an inspiring vision, independents will remain an attractive alternative.