Dai Le on election night 2022 / screenshot Sky News

This week Australian women’s magazine Marie Claire announced their Women of the Year for 2022. In the “Changemakers” category, the seven Teal “independents” were awarded the prize.

For those uninitiated into Australian politics, the 2022 election was not just notable for the change of government from the Liberal and National party Coalition (the conservative side of politics) to the Labor party. It was the surge of “Independents” winning previously solid Liberal seats in Australia’s big cities.

There were six of them, all women, all running on more action on climate change, greater integrity in politics, and just a general Nice Rich White Lady vibe. (The seventh of these “independents” awarded the Marie Claire prize is Zali Steggall who had already been elected to the parliament in 2019 and was a forerunner for the others.)

The use of quotation marks for “independent” so far is deliberate. While not running formally for a party, this team of women were all substantially funded by the Climate 200 activist group founded by businessman Simon Holmes a Court, ran on the same issues, and used the same branding – teal coloured signs and pamphlets and websites which led to the moniker of “Teals” (a mixture of green and Liberal blue).

Recent electoral act disclosures have shown that these now MPs raised and spent a staggering amount of money. Upwards of $2 million each. And most of that was provided by the Climate 200 group and a small coterie of other big-name donors.

For context, in the 2019 Federal Election, Steggall was the candidate at the top of the donation list and she raised a little over 1 million dollars. The next highest fundraiser was Helen Haines, another independent (more on her later), who raised not even a quarter of the amount these Teals did in 2022.

It’s quite something to watch them talk about the nefarious influence of big money on politics only to outspend their major party rivals by these astronomical amounts.

And it’s even more galling to see them claim to be “independents” when they’re really just the political arm of the professional managerial class green energy movement. When they’re advocating for the same things, using the same branding, funded by the same sources, and winning magazine awards together.

Well, if it quacks like a duck.

Now I won’t begrudge them these awards, but it is notable who is not in the Changemakers of the Year photoshoot. Especially in light of this note in the magazine:

With this extraordinary group of women now sitting on the crossbench, the Independents share a united sentiment: there’s space next to them for more women to shake up Parliament House

The thing is: there already are more women next to them.

Helen Hayes, of the rural Victorian seat Indi, is there already. She’s been sitting in Parliament since 2019 without scooping up magazine awards. Rebekha Sharkie has been in the Parliament since 2018 and, while ostensibly in the Centre Alliance party, is in effect an independent. But no invite to the swanky Rockpool Bar & Grill awards function for them.

And there was even another independent woman elected in 2022: Dai Le. The Vietnamese born refugee from Western Sydney who knocked off Labor star frontbencher (albeit perennial election loser) Kristina Keneally in the seat of Fowler. And she managed to do it while collecting a grand total of $81,000 in donations.

Now that seems like change-making worth recognising.

But Dai Le wasn’t on the Marie Claire cover. Why?

Here’s a clue. Here’s another. One more.

She’s proud of Australia. She’s not singing from the climate change songsheet. She’s talking about issues like cost of living – something the inner-city Teals haven’t had to worry about for a while.

Okay, one more.

Put simply: she’s not in the club. I expect Marie Claire didn’t deliberately exclude Le as much as barely know she’s there. She’s not part of their social class.

Because that’s what so much of the Teal phenomenon is – the high social class asserting itself into the void left by failing institutions. A new hobby for the wealthy professional managerial class who’ve got theirs and are pulling the ladder up behind them.

It’s an extremely well-funded realignment from the politics of Doing Things to the politics of Caring About Things. Politics as social status. Parliament as an influencer platform, not as a lawmaking institution.

Australia didn’t have a Brexit and didn’t get a Trump (despite what some said about Scott Morrison) but the Teals are a preemptive strike from the ruling class against the threat of a populist movement.

Dai Le isn’t perfect, and indeed she likely shares many of the concerns and policy preferences of the Teals. But she stands there – a refugee, adorned in the Australian flag, elected without the backing of big money – and reminds them that there are real people out there still, people with jobs and mortgages and bills to pay, and they will have their say.

Samuel John is a Sydney-based writer and commentator. He has previously worked as a political staffer, ministerial adviser, and in government relations.