Adam Bandt could have rightly felt bemused as he was walking through federal parliament.
Barely a day earlier, he’d announced the Greens’ bolstered political ranks would back Labor’s climate change bill, giving the new Prime Minister the votes he needed for landmark laws to reduce carbon emissions.
Bandt cut a lonely figure as he walked alone behind a press gaggle the size you so often only see for major party leaders.
In front of the microphones were six women, all but one new faces in a parliament more diverse than any that came before it.
If success has many fathers and failure is an orphan, then Labor’s climate change bill was a child with more parents than it could poke a stick at.
“The climate wars are nearly over,” Zali Steggall cautiously said.
pure political maths
In many ways, Labor and the crossbench have plenty to celebrate after this week.
Labor, once the legislation passes the Senate, will have enshrined laws in a policy area fraught with toppling prime ministers.
Bandt too has done what former leaders of his party baulked at.
Arguably, he’s transforming the Greens from a movement to a political party by adopting a pragmatic approach that gets something, even if it’s not as much as his party might have wanted.
And the teals were successful in making minor amendments, ensuring they could go back to their communities by selling a win.
But suggestions that Australian politics has been radically changed since the election are certainly premature.
“Teals get a win and we get a win” is how one in Labor dubbed it.
What was at play was pure political maths.
Labor knows that if the teals succeed, it all but consigns the Coalition to the opposition benches.
The teal amendments didn’t require the government to add anything it didn’t want to.
It was the Greens who delivered Labor the votes it needed, or at least will when the Senate considers the laws later this year.
It’s why Bandt could be forgiven if he was frustrated that the teals were attracting the credit at their press conference for what was, in fact, a gift his party had given the government.
Yet to just view this in purely political win-loss metrics perhaps misunderstands both the election and broader political movement.
Taking the ‘fight’ out
Zali Steggall led the teals to their press conference early on Thursday morning.
She’s not the first community-backed independent to arrive in Canberra but there’s no doubt she created the mold the teals have followed.
“Just a brief thank you to Zali Steggall, who worked tirelessly over the last three years for us to be in this position,” Sydneysider Sophie Scamps said at the press conference.
Steggall is proving not just a mentor among the teals but also a bridge between new and old members of the crossbench and with the government.
What unites these independents is they’re political newbies, leaders in their former lives, now setting their sights on doing politics differently.
You only had to hear Kylea Tink to get a sense that conventional political thinking is the last thing on her mind.
After a journalist quoted the Greens saying the “fight” was just beginning to force the government to be more ambitious, she argued that it was the wrong approach.
Tink said it should be the “planning” that starts now and that politicians across the political aisle needed to work together, rather than fight.
She also was quick to “reframe” a question being put to the crossbenchers.
“The comment you just made was that the government doesn’t need my vote as a crossbencher to get this legislation through,” Tink said.
“That may be the case but any government that seeks to lead the nation needs to take its people with it.
“What we’ve seen here is a government that recognizes that just because you don’t sit on a side on the government’s side doesn’t mean that your community’s voice doesn’t matter.
“If I wasn’t an independent, it wouldn’t have been heard.”
‘The Liberals have disenfranchised people’
After the first sitting fortnight, some in the building have wondered if the teals are yet to regret entering politics.
At least a couple of moments from the week might have given them moments of doubt about their new career.
As bells rang for politicians to vote on the climate bills, Tink and Scamps were regularly spotted darting out of the chamber, returning minutes later before the bells stopped ringing.
Their distraction, it transpired, were pieces of toast being consumed outside the chamber. Finding time to eat in Canberra is no longer something you can do on a whim.
Victorian Monique Ryan, too, might have had pangs of doubt after one of her staff pulled down her mask during that press conference and pushed her fingers up the sides of her mouth, signaling for her boss to smile.
Being told to smile was arguably something she’d have never heard as she ran the neurology department of the Royal Children’s Hospital.
She didn’t need to be told to smile as she found her way to the microphone and took aim at the Liberals who refused to negotiate with the government over the emissions target.
“This is just the end of the beginning in our action on climate change,” Ryan said.
“To make progress, to be at the table you have to have a voice at the table and in taking themselves out of the discussion, the Liberals have disenfranchised the people in the electorates they represent.”
Tasmanian Liberal Bridget Archer likely agrees.
She again proved she’s willing to do what so often men in her party appear unable to follow through on — saying they’ll cross the floor on an issue and actually doing it.
But it’s far from perfect
The teals arrived in Canberra after their communities turfed out the Liberals who had long dominated the electorates they now hold.
They’ve been pleasantly surprised at the spirit of collaboration that they’ve found in Labor — at least for now.
But no-one is saying parliament is anywhere near perfect.
“We’re still seeing in Question Time old-style politics play out,” Steggall says.
“I don’t think it impresses many of us and it certainly doesn’t impress the Australian public.”