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.