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Cathy McGowan on being independent

Australians saw no better example of democracy at work than when Cathy McGowan took the seat of Indi from sitting member Sophie Mirabella in the 2013 federal election.

The electorate took it upon itself to oust Mirabella on the basis that she didn’t appear to be representing anyone but the Liberal Party, and most certainly not her electorate.

How did Cathy McGowan perform what many consider to be a minor miracle, ousting a sitting Liberal Party member at an election where there was a 3.6% swing towards the Abbott led Liberals? Cathy not only achieved this, but with a massive of 9.2% swing against incumbent Sophie Mirabella. Only in Indi did a sitting Liberal member lose their seat.

During 2012, a small group of young people gathered together on the basis of their feelings that they weren’t being represented properly or effectively, and from those few people grew a movement of over 3000 volunteers who basically door knocked the entire electorate.

The result of this grass roots movement, or “Kitchen Table Conversations” emerged a document: ‘Voice for Indi’ with Cathy McGowan, businessperson, farmer and academic agreeing to become that voice.

Perhaps it is the feeling of disenchantment with the major political players, a wish for more personal involvement in the decision making process which is seeing the rise and rise of Independents such as Cathy McGowan. And so it is that Cathy faces another election and once more her main opponent is the controversial and high profile Sophia Mirabella for the Liberal Party.

It was tempting to want to discuss with Cathy the nation’s gaze on Indi: Cathy McGowan versus Sophie Mirabella, but Cathy ensured in her calm but forceful way that any discussion would focus on her beloved electorate, not on herself.

“That’s all everyone wants to talk about but it’s not what I want to talk about. Cathy McGowan versus Sophie Mirabella isn’t the important issue in this campaign. The needs of the people of Indi is the most important issue, and that is my focus”.

To walk into the McGowan campaign ‘headquarters’ is to take a step back in time, to when consultation plus representation were of prime importance. A time when it wasn’t about winning at all costs, where instead of ‘focus groups’ and highly paid consultants you will find a dedicated team of volunteers engaged in everything from assisting pensioners try to understand the new Senate voting system, to being busily engaged in painting chairs (for the weary to rest at polling stations) and making bunting and posters.

If McGowan is passionate about one particular thing then this is her insistence that her job is to represent. Her own goals? “I want my community to feel stronger, more confident and to know what it wants for itself. My job is to facilitate this”.

Contrast this with the response from any party beholden politician: “I can’t help you with that, it’s not Party policy”. To Cathy McGowan, the people of Indi are her policy with a passionate belief that the people of Indi ” … want a representative who will represent the people and not the Party. And that is my job”. This has brought with it some criticisms, namely that Cathy is too Indi focused to be a federal politician.

But perhaps too this is Cathy’s strength. In days were people fear that they do not have a voice, where their representative does not represent the views of their electorate but is bound by often city-centred focused only major party politicking. This is perhaps greater felt outside the major capital cities where the needs in rural and regional Australia have changed and where issues affect people far more directly: jobs, communication including mobile phone service and the NBN, and health including the notorious Wangaratta hospital (which may or may not have had funding according to Sophie Mirabella) have a direct impact on quality of life.

For Cathy McGown, it is through the Kitchen Table Conversations that the people of Indi continue to have a voice to be heard, where their interests, concerns and ideas can be taken up and pursued via her advocacy in Canberra. “It’s all about consultation and paying attention to what the community wants. My job is to represent them, and as I am not beholden to any party policy their voice is going straight to Canberra. This is doing democracy as it should be done”.

However, one cannot omit from any discussion about the fight for Indi, the onslaught coming from seemingly ‘anonymous’, the most recent being a glossy ‘Fact Sheet’ stating in bold Red and Green that: A vote for Cathy is a vote for the Greens and Labor. Reverse side we read supposed ‘Facts’. This ‘anonymous’ piece of political propaganda contains the name of no politician, the name of no political party, however the address printed ‘small’ at the bottom reveals that it is the address of the Liberal Party of Australia (Victoria Division).

Cathy’s response, quite typical is not to attack the person, but to calmly lay out the facts for consideration:

I am generally happy to support the Government in getting on to the day to day business of governing. But when they make decisions that are bad for the people of Indi, I will always stand up for our electorate. That is why I voted against the Coalition’s devastating cuts to Youth Allowance and Higher Education. I also opposed the GP co-payment.

This is Cathy McGowan representing Indi. This was what the community was saying they wanted. “I want the people of Indi to see themselves when I represent them in Canberra”.

This is Cathy McGowan on being independent.



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  1. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Cathy McGowan didn’t need to be good to beat Sophie Mirabella. Sophie beat herself.

    Nonetheless, McGowan has proven she cares for the people of Indi and she has respectability.

    I hope she wins the seat because she puts her constituents first. I also hope she extends that sense of responsibility to the common good of all Australians.

  2. Athena

    I hope Cathy kicks Sophie Mirabella to the kerb again on Saturday.

  3. Kizhmet

    Cathy is an example of what our representatives should be doing. Ditto comments from Athena and JMS. Good luck Cathy!!

  4. Kaye Lee

    Cathy represents the people of her electorate in wanting to lift the ban on importing rapid action shotguns – legislation proposed by Katter whose son-in-law is a gun importer.

    …..after Leyonhjelm said he had “blackmailed” the government with his Senate vote on an unrelated issue, the government staged a partial reversal, and promised the ban would definitely be lifted in 12 months.

    “A spokesman for McGowan said she intended to second the disallowance motion because “many constituents have called her and asked her to support it.”

  5. Athena

    Well that’s a worry. 🙁

  6. nurses1968

    The Parliamentary Library has compiled the following statistics on Cathy McGowan’s official voting record.

    Overall, Cathy has voted with the Government more than 90 per cent of the time.

    Since 12 November 2013, 475 Bills have been passed in the House of Representatives
    Of these I voted with the Government on 443 occasions and with the Opposition on 32 occasions
    On 9 occasions I voted against the Government and the Opposition

  7. Athena

    I have read elsewhere that Cathy is conservative. So if she is voting with the LNP most of the time, what exactly did the people of Indi find unsatisfactory in Sophie Mirabella?

  8. Matters Not

    Cathy publicises how she votes. And how it aligns with what she promised.

    She said one thing before the election, the same thing after the election, and her record shows she did exactly that.

    It’s a pity she won’t be there in the future.

  9. Michael Taylor

    Athena, I think the big difference was that Cathy was actually engaging with the electorate. Mirabella would have sided with the government 100% of the time.

  10. John Kelly

    Nicely put together, Michael. There may be a new career waiting for you. Goodness knows we need someone to ask the hard questions.

  11. @RosemaryJ36

    It sounds as though Cathy’s constituency is essentially liberal in the small ‘l’ sense.

  12. wam

    sadly the nationals, you know the third largest party in the parliament, you know the party left off the idiot green’s compass, you know the one led by barnaby who is happy to let the loony di natali gammon as the third eye, has marty corboy on the list and if he polls enough to get in front of mirabella, surely cathy will go?

  13. Kaye Lee

    Ten years ago, Corboy stood as a Family First candidate for the state seat of Benambra. He remains pro-life, thinks homosexuality is wrong, homeschools his kids and doubts humans can cause climate change. “The science isn’t settled,” he says.

    Does he mean this in the same way that the science of evolution isn’t settled?

    “Well, yes,” he says. “That’s the nature of science. But when it comes to the argument that man evolved from apes, I guess you could call me a creationist.”

  14. Athena

    “Athena, I think the big difference was that Cathy was actually engaging with the electorate. Mirabella would have sided with the government 100% of the time.”

    I get that, but has anyone ever voted for a party whose policies they agree with 100%, and then in between elections that party introduced bills that the voter approved of 100%, and voted in the parliament for bills that the voter approved of 100%? If Cathy McGowan is supporting the reintroduction of rapid action shotguns there must be some people in the electorate who don’t agree with it.

    Then, after being ousted, Mirabella is back again, running in the same electorate for the Liberals. If I was in the Liberal Party I would think well the people of Indi obviously want a conservative MP but let’s give them someone else who will engage with them. Are the Libs arrogant or stupid?

  15. Trish Corry

    Congratulations on this interview. Well done Michael. An interesting read.

  16. Athena

    Thanks for the link to the video, MN. So Cathy generally votes with the government of the day. She has only been there for one term, so it will be interesting to see her stats with a different government.

  17. paul walter

    Another small c conservative indi and we recall from Windsor of Oakshott, These are not the most unreasonable sort of folk in parllament.

    Mirabella lost her seat against a big swing and what has McGowan done wrong that would warrant an electorate conservative but not stupid putting in a discredited candidate on with a mild swing against the sitting member the best they could hope for. Any minority Greens or Labor might even think of at least preferencing McGowan before the dreaded Mirabilis,..dear god, no.

  18. Kaye Lee

    It’s not surprising that Cathy had a lot of people contacting her about guns. There was a concerted campaign run by Katter’s son-in-law Rob Nioa to get people to do just that giving the contact details of all sympathetic politicians.

    “Could you please take the time to email your thanks to the following members for their efforts in supporting us:

    To the Coalition members working tirelessly in the background to ensure licensed firearms owners, user groups and industry get a seat at the table and get their views heard: Senator Bridget McKenzie, Senator Nigel Scullion,Hon John Cobb MP, Ross Vasta MP, Mark Coulton

    To the MP’s that moved a motion of disallowance for the regulation to prohibit the import of the 7 shot Adler shotgun:
    In the Upper House: Senator David Leyonheljm, Senator Ricky Muir
    In the Lower House: Hon Bob Katter MP, Cathy McGowan AO,

    To the Minister for Justice who has committed to personally chair monthly consultation with the recently formed Industry Reference Group comprising of Firearms Industry and user organisations: Hon Michael Keenan MP”

    Nioa goes on to say that the suspension of the import of the Adler 7 Shot Shotgun was instigated when every single State Police Minister personally requested that Minister Keenan suspend the importation of the firearm but Nioa insists that their decision was based on “a myth being peddled by the extremist group Gun Control Australia and the Greens” and asks everyone to “let each Police Minister and their respective Premier know what you think about their personal request to suspend the import of Adler shotguns for licensed firearm owners” with their contact details.

    This guy, immediately after the ban, imported thousands of Adlers with a five-shot capacity that are easily (and apparently legally) modifiable to take more rounds. The Newman Government held a review into gun licence red tape and appointed him to the panel. He bankrolls the Katter Party.

    If you think the gun lobby only exists in the States think again. Their political influence is spreading, not only in the Coalition, but through Independents and micro-parties. These people could well hold the balance of power.

  19. Athena

    Oh the gun lobby definitely exists. I’m concerned that the Shooters & Fishers are now the Shooters, Fishers & Farmers. I’m pleased that senate voting reform has removed an easy and deceitful way for micros and independents representing a whackjob minority to get elected on preference deals.

  20. Kaye Lee

    They are working at the State level too. Nioa also said:

    And to our State members of Parliament that have been working hard behind the scenes with State Governments around the country:

    Shooters and Fishers Party: Hon Robert Borsak MLC, Hon Robert Brown MLC, Jeff Bourman MLC, Daniel Young MLC, Hon Rick Mazza

    Katter’s Australian Party: Robbie Katter MP, Shane Knuth

    They also travel under names like The Outdoor Recreation Party etc.

  21. Peter F

    @Kaye Lee: ‘But when it comes to the argument that man evolved from apes, I guess you could call me a creationist.”’ I take it that he never saw TA walking.

  22. Kaye Lee

    I should add that I think Cathy has been a good representative for her constituents but I don’t think she should necessarily react to the volume of calls she receives. People who are anti-gun where much less likely to contact her to express their opinion.

    There is also big money on offer which worries me.

    Mr Nioa is senior vice-president of the Katter party. He is also a president of the Firearm Dealers Association Queensland and president of the Australian Gun Dealers Association.

    A company of which he is a director gave KAP $131,000 through donations made between 2012 and 2013. The Sporting Shooters Association separately donated $200,000 in the same period, while the Shooters and Fishers Party (NSW) gave $5000 and the Shooters Union of Queensland $2500. Katter also received $50,000 from Dean Mighell, head of the Victorian branch of the Electrical Trades Union, who is also an executive of the Sporting Shooters Association of Victoria, and an undisclosed amount from Queensland Gun Exchange owner David Auger.

  23. Michael Taylor

    Kaye, I don’t think it’s from the calls alone. In my two years living in Indi the only party I’ve seen with stalls in towns to talk to the electorate are Cathy’s. The only door knockers are Cathy’s. She’s the only one speaking to people.

  24. kerri

    I think the good Cathy McGowan has done in terms of consultation and engagement with her electorate should not be overpowered by her conservative stance! Let’s face it, rural electorates are usually conservative and yes, pro-gun. If Cathy has voted with the government and that is what her electorate want her to do, then she is fulfilling her role as their representative whether any of us, not in Indi, agree with those views or not! We should be thankful that she may spell the end of the nastiest most self indulgent and arrogant politician that has ever blighted this land! I hope she wins and I hope many more Independants win, provided like Cathy they do their best to exchange views with their constituents and represent them appropriately.
    Democracy can only count if the other opinion is taken when in the majority!

  25. diannaart

    Thank you Michael for this informative piece on Cathy McGowan.

    My father, a war vet, never wanted to see let alone touch a firearm again – I don’t know very much about my dad – in my early years dads weren’t all that involved with their kids, their job was to provide an income, drink and watch sport.

    Therefore, any thoughts from my dad were unusual and given a great deal of scrutiny. So much so, that in my 20’s I got a forearms licence and went hunting rabbits/kangaroos with my then husband. I wanted to understand a bit more about guns – instead I learnt a whole lot about myself. On the kangaroo hunts, I never even fired a shot, I may have sighted one but just could not fire. The people I was hunting with were all male – there was a great deal of heightened excitement/blood lust that turned me off and one other hunter – he was wasn’t into shooting roos either, we just enjoyed scrambling over rocks, hiding behind trees and just enjoying the excuse to be out in the bush.

    OK not kangaroos, how about rabbits? – they’re vermin and I should be able to test myself by shooting, skinning and cleaning a rabbit for the stew pot. I chose to hunt alone. Shot one rabbit neatly through the shoulder straight into its heart, learned that after you eviscerate the guts, move away from all the blowies to get on with the skinning. Made a very good rabbit stew. The next time I went hunting I found a small young rabbit that presented an easy target – because it was blind due to myxomatosis, an easy shot across a swale, which I stuffed up – only wounding then firing enough successive shots to complete what I had started – of course a rapid fire gun would’ve been handy – in those days such guns were military. No rabbit stew this time. That was the end of my shooting career.

    I understand why farmers need guns. I also disagree vehemently with the gun lobby as a anachronistic group more selfish than anything else. We have gun laws, they could go further.

    Yet, if I was a resident of Indi, I would vote for Cathy or any similar independent, because I would want a representative who listened to her constituents, not a politician whose goal was scoring points for herself in Canberra.

    If we waited for a person or party with whom we agreed 100% of the time – Godot is more likely to make an appearance.

    It is imperative we inform ourselves as much as possible about our representatives in government – then we can make informed decisions – who ever said informed decisions were ideal?

  26. Kaye Lee

    I admire Cathy’s accessibility as a representative and I think she listens to her constituents,. She is also very transparent and willing to discuss the reasons behind her decisions. I may not always agree with her but then again I don’t expect to always agree with anyone.

    I do, however, still feel that the gun lobby has a disproportionately loud voice. Farmers can already have guns. I have seen no case made for relaxing regulations other than from people who want to make money selling bigger and badder guns.

  27. diannaart

    I do, however, still feel that the gun lobby has a disproportionately loud voice

    I agree completely.

    What is the likelihood of the gun lobby achieving their aims (no pun intended) via Cathy McGowan’s representation in Canberra? Is the gun lobby also lobbying other candidates in Indi and, no doubt elsewhere?

    Is there another ‘Cathy McGowan’ in Indi but without the gun lobby baggage?

    Fortunately for me, these are merely suppositions, I don’t live in Indi, I don’t have to make this choice.

  28. Athena

    “What is the likelihood of the gun lobby achieving their aims (no pun intended) via Cathy McGowan’s representation in Canberra? Is the gun lobby also lobbying other candidates in Indi and, no doubt elsewhere?”

    Don’t be surprised if Pauline Hanson steps up to fight for the gun lobby. That is assuming she hasn’t done so already. I try to avoid listening to her or reading about her for fear of losing IQ points.

    A couple of months ago in NSW the Shooters & Fishers voted with the Liberal government to outlaw protesting against mining. In return for their vote they got gun silencers. If there’s enough money at stake from the most influential corporations in politics, then these minority groups can force the LNP to roll over on gun control. And there seems to be a growing number of RWNJs popping up within the LNP who are crazy enough for anything.

  29. paul walter

    I was surprised at the gun lobby stuff, but it is a good issue for street cred for a conservative, particularly in rural areas where they may feel inclined to knock over a few bunnies or foxes at an opportune time but I do wonder at loosening laws controlling more sophisticated weaponry, is THAT necessary?

  30. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    As far as I’m concerned, farmers can do with the same type of guns they’ve always used. No automatic guns necessary.

    Also, I would invite Howard to return to advocate his one campaign that will carry him into perpetuity – and that is gun control.

    He obviously wields some power, so roll out the carpets to Howard on the issue of gun control.

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