Flat White

Look who’s cashed-up and running for blue-ribbon seats

15 December 2021

4:00 PM

15 December 2021

4:00 PM

From Woolhahra, Point Piper, and beyond the multi-billionaires are queuing to support an Independent. But who are they really supporting?

Allegra Spender has come out in a blaze of publicity to declare she’s running for the seat of Wentworth, currently held by the Liberal’s Dave Sharma. Spender’s campaign colour incorporates pale-blue – quietly implying centrist Liberal values.

Spender is the daughter of John Spender, a barrister who represented North Sydney in the federal parliament in the 1980s for the party. Her grandfather, Percy Spender, was one of the leading conservative figures of 1940s Australian politics and diplomacy a signatory to the ANZUS treaty with the US and New Zealand in 1951. Her mother was the hugely talented fashion designer Carla Zampatti, whom I once had the pleasure of interviewing, under the benevolent gaze of a huge gilt Buddha statue in her Clarence Street offices.

Allegra Spender couldn’t be more ‘Liberal royalty’ unless her family name was Menzies. But actually, she’s championing Green values to the point where an interested observer might say, ‘Why bother calling yourself Independent – oh wait, you don’t want to be confused with the lumpen Greens?’

Spender’s campaign seems to have netted an American PR blogger, Blair Palese, who lists working for the Body Shop, Greenpeace, and consulting for the Australian Museum on climate policy in her credentials. Foreign experts hired to run election strategy have not always been roaring successes in Australia – just ask John McTernan who was hired to work election magic for Julia Gillard (he didn’t).

But it’s the Eastern Suburbs nomenklatura who are donating the biggest bucks to the Independents, mostly through the Climate 200 fund to support Independents running against Liberals such as Dave Sharma in Wentworth, Trent Zimmerman in North Sydney, and Tim Wilson in Goldstein – with Wilson facing former ABC journalist Zoe Daniel.


There’s even been a call out for an Independent candidate to unseat Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in Kooyong, advertised in The Age which was then reinforced by ex-ABC elder Barrie Cassidy and ex-Independent Cathy McGowan when speaking at a fundraiser on the decline of democracy. That’s a lot of ex-es – and more to come – none live in Texas…

The billionaires include the Milgrom family, whose reclusive matriarch Naomi Milgrom has a net worth somewhere near 933 million from a retail empire which includes Sussan, Sportsgirl, and Suzanne Grae.

She told the media, ‘The time has passed where climate change is an opportunity for point-scoring between the major political parties or pandering to interest groups. Our focus should be on the world to be inherited by future generations.’

Gosh, doesn’t that fill your heart with nice warm feelings?

Except, I presume, when it comes to Climate 200. Funding for these squillionaires is run by Simon, son of the South African-émigré Robert Holmes a Court. Its advisory council includes Rob Oakeshott, Dr Kerryn Phelps the one-time Member for Wentworth, Tony Windsor, and disgruntled former Liberal-turned-Independent Julia Banks.

Climate 200 has apparently collected a $4.7 million ‘fighting fund’ to bolster its Independents and is reportedly lobbying donors hard for more, helped along by words of encouragement from another of those supporters, ex-PM Malcolm Turnbull, who is, as Allegra Spender told the ABC when asked if Turnbull had come in as an adviser, ‘Not an adviser [on her campaign] but a family friend.’

Money and friends, now that’s what you need to run an Independent campaign!

But here’s something interesting about people who normally live interesting lives behind well-guarded walls… They have traits in common. Many are disappointedsoulslike Oakeshott, Windsor, and Banks who have been hauled in to contribute their knowledge of life beyond the harbour city. They are also a political class of has-been, couldabeen, wanna-be-relevant-again tagging along behind an Independent.

The real money crowd – and Sydney has a big one – have business empires that may not quite align with government revenue-raising in future times, or our current contretemps with China which is our biggest trading partner and incidentally where most of the clothes that clothe Australian frames are manufactured.

The Australian rag trade died peacefully in its sleep and nobody took much notice because there were lots of cute, fresh fashions to buy, most with a ‘Designed in Australia, made in China’ label. (People who collect vintage notice these things).

Things may become a lot more austere very fast in the next years.

Do we really want people like Malcolm Turnbull, Phelps, Oakeshott, Windsor, Banks et al, and a host of ex-whatever people running government strategy for the rest of us?

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