The former Liberal MP Julia Banks will join the advisory board of an organisation formed to support the election of climate-focused independents to parliament at the next federal election.
Banks said she was motivated to join Climate 200 in an advisory capacity because significant action was needed on climate change, restoring integrity in politics and gender equality.
“By the time of the election, this government will have lost another three years to act on these three profoundly important fronts,” Banks told Guardian Australia.
“Some Coalition backbenchers say, for example, that they think the government should commit to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, but when it comes to the crunch they vote exactly the same way as Barnaby Joyce and Craig Kelly.
“We are now approaching a lost decade on climate change and significant action by the major parties is being stymied by powerful minorities inside their ranks as well as powerful business interests.”
She said she had been approached to join the initiative by the investor and activist Simon Holmes à Court, the convener of Climate 200, and that approach was “especially timely” given the government’s suboptimal response to the landmark Respect@Work report by Australia’s sex discrimination commissioner, Kate Jenkins.
Jenkins and a number of other women’s advocates have expressed significant disappointment the Morrison government has thus far failed to impose a duty on Australian employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, which was the key recommendation of the inquiry.
The government’s partial adoption of the Respect@Work recommendations was a significant source of criticism at this week’s National Summit on Women’s Safety – an event convened by the Morrison government to help inform a new national plan to reduce violence against women and children.
Banks said the Coalition’s failure to adopt the main recommendations of the inquiry, and the insertion of the word “seriously” into the types of harassment that would be outlawed by the tranche of legislation that did pass the parliament, “reminds me that [Scott Morrison] no more understands the seriousness of sexual harassment than he really believes in the crisis of climate change”.
Banks, a corporate lawyer before her time in politics, won a Victorian marginal seat for the Liberal party at the 2016 election. When she announced she would not recontest her marginal seat of Chisholm in August 2018, she delivered an incendiary statement blasting the “cultural and gender bias, bullying and intimidation” of women in politics.
At that time she described bullying and intimidation as a “scourge” in politics, the media and business, and warned those who would accuse her of “playing the gender card” that she would continue to fight for gender equality because women had been “silent for too long”.
Banks penned a memoir this year about her experiences in politics. She quit the Liberal party in 2018, moved to the crossbench before the election in 2019, and stood unsuccessfully as an independent in the Victorian seat of Flinders.
The former Liberal MP said she was of the view that voters were becoming more prepared to support independents because of their frustration with major party politics. “A crossbench with the balance of power is the surest way to the action we need on climate change, integrity in politics and gender equality,” Banks said.
Campaigns by independents have had mixed success. Zali Steggall unseated the former prime minister Tony Abbott in the 2019 election, and Helen Haines held the Victorian seat of Indi after the retirement of the high-profile independent Cathy McGowan, but a climate-focused independent failed to unseat the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, in Kooyong.
With electoral pressure growing on Liberal moderates in heartland seats over the government’s lack of meaningful climate action, Morrison has signalled that he wants Australia to meet a net zero emissions commitment by 2050, and “preferably” sooner.
In a recent interview with Guardian Australia, Frydenberg acknowledged that managing carbon risk was now a major preoccupation in global capital markets, and he said the government continued to consider what formal commitments it would take to the Cop26 summit in Glasgow in November.
With the political pressure increasing, the Liberal senator Andrew Bragg has written to the Australian Electoral Commission asking for a probe of the “voices” movements that are organising independent campaigns in blue-ribbon Liberal held-seats.
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