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Democracy at work

Just how powerful are we as voters? Very powerful, writes Sir ScotchMistery. And our power lies not just in how we cast our vote at the polling booth, but in how we can decide in whose name appears on the ballot paper.

Over the last few weeks we have all been moaning mournfully about the nature of “democracy” in Australia and the fact that today it really doesn’t exist. What we are suffering under the moment is far more an oligarchy led by three or four wealthy people telling another person who wishes he was wealthy (and as far as we can tell, still a pommy), what to do.

I have done a bit of tweeting on the subject and people keep coming back to me saying “30 independents in every house of Parliament in Australia will allow right wing nut jobs (RWNJ), to overtake the Parliament.

Whilst I accept that there is an element of this which may be true, the same possibility applies to left wing nut jobs but whatever the result, if done properly there is no reason for Australia not to have 30 independents in each house of Parliament, each representing the needs and aspirations of their electorate.

The electorate of Indi, with its centre in northern Victoria, took it upon itself to oust the sitting “liberal” member, Sophie Mirabella, on the basis that she didn’t appear to be representing anybody but the Liberal party, and most certainly not her electorate, which she had supposedly “represented” for the past 13 year, from 2001.

Indi did it differently.

In general, when we think of an “Independent” running for parliament, we see in our minds eye somebody deciding that they are good enough to take on the incumbent or conversely are prepared to put their time, effort and money up to run a campaign against the incumbent, in their own right. In fact the path to Cathy McGowan taking the seat of Indi, had nothing whatsoever to do with her deciding she was good enough to take on the incumbent.

During 2012, a small group of young people from the area decided they weren’t being represented properly or effectively, and from those 12 people grew a movement of over 3000 volunteers who basically door knocked the entire electorate, which was a task in itself when one considers that the division of Indi, which has been part of the Parliament of Australia since Federation, having been one of the original 75 divisions proclaimed at Federation, continuously, covers an area of 28,567 km² along the NSW border from Rutherglen to Corryong in the North, Kinglake and Woods Point in the South and Falls Creek, Mount Hotham, Mount Buffalo and Mount Buller in the east. As you can see, a huge electorate which needs a lot of miles driven to cover it.

Anyway, these young people and their volunteers who ended up numbering in excess of 3000, door knocked the entire place and asked people what they felt were the important things to take into Parliament as their “issues”.

The result of these “kitchen table conversations”, was a document Voice for Indi which became part of “Indi Shares”. The resultant Voice for Indi website became a way for those people who initially met, and their volunteers and the people who decided that the basic premise was correct, and that they weren’t being represented by Ms Mirabella, or the LNP, to engage, to keep in touch, to fund raise and eventually to launch a run into Parliament.

In June 2014, the “Indi Shares” at Oxley in the rugged hills around Wangaratta resulted in around 100 people getting together and talking about making a difference in Australian politics. Politics without the parties, in a space where the “candidate” was employed by the electorate directly, rather than having to survive on their own means.

My memory of it was that around $180,000 was raised by those people to fund the change, rather than being dependent upon the resources of the candidate, or more importantly, of a party machine with its associated apparatchiks, and their predilection for parachuting candidates into the house.

Once the document had been put together, A Voice for Indi advertised for a candidate to work within their guidelines (as set by the members of the founding group, the results of the document from the kitchen table conversations, and input from volunteers).

Again, from my memory, which is getting rather rusty, the money raised went to funding things like campaign paraphernalia, T-shirts, and operations office and the expenses of the candidate, to allow her to behave as if she had already been elected, from the time she was employed by the organisation. In other words, Cathy McGowan was employed directly by the members of the electorate.

In and of itself, this is not a hard call. It is rather a matter of finding a committed core group of people prepared to put time effort and some money towards the process of locating somebody to properly represent them as electors, and further to more widely represent the needs of the electorate, including the issues important to the mostly (in this case) Conservative electorate. No one in the whole process was disenfranchised by the movement and one of the people we met during the Indi shares conference, was a farmer who had never ever voted anything but conservative.

The one thing that has to be said is that nobody can launch an election campaign for election with no money and it would be unfair and inappropriate to expect someone outside of the likes of Clive Palmer perhaps, to completely fund their own campaign to unseat one of the party faithful. In this situation it requires a gathering of like minds to get together and sort out funding, directions, plans and vision, then to find somebody appropriate to present those issues to a Parliament which no longer represents the needs and aspirations of the Australian people, but rather represents the direction the ALP and LNP wish to take the country in terms of its interface with United States and Europe, including rushing into any war that the LNP decides is good for us, and signing and “Free” trade agreement the US tells them to.

We have 18 months to find 30 independents for both houses in the Federal Parliament, and a further three years to do the same thing in every State government house. This perhaps is the only way to change the current unicameral system in place in Queensland, and also get us back to a proper “democratic” form of Parliament not only in Queensland but in the whole of Australia.

In conclusion I would add, that to paraphrase Charles F Aked – ‘all that is required for the parties to win every time, is for good people to do nothing’.

I hope that somewhere in Australia are a few hundred people who see this, OUR COUNTRY, as something more than the indistinct shadow of a star on “old glory”.


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  1. Tony Rabbit

    Who’s to say that after they get in, they won’t do a Lambie?

    I respect Lambie because she seems to be against the LNP but had it been reversed, the voters would be, and are, powerless to hold her to her commitments.

    At least when they are part of a party, the party goes a long way to holding them to their commitments.

  2. Keitha Granville

    “the party goes a long way to holding them to their commitments.”
    So many times an enthusiastic candidate stands for election promising to listen to the constituents, represent them faithfully etc etc. And then once they are there, they realise that as part of a party they are unable to do anything but represent the views of the party. They aren’t allowed to stick up for their constituents if it’s not in the party policy. If they were, we would have had voluntary euthanasia years ago, we would have had legalised gay marriage, and a range of other issues that the vast majority of the electorate in every state wants but the parties DON’T.
    I like the idea of a community group finding an independent candidate, but eventually I fear that it will fall apart.
    I am a Green, I like to think that the Greens are about as independent as you can get inside a party structure. They aren’t perfect, far from it, but they listen a lot more to their followers, and are more likely to vote according to conscience rather than strictly sticking to a party line.
    Is there a solution ? Probably not. But a whole lot more independents and a whole lot less 2 old parties would be fabulous. THAT’S a parliament. THAT would be a democracy.

  3. John Kelly

    Take pity on me. Kevin Andrews is my local member. I’m searching for a high profile, baggage free, vote winning, local independent candidate that could stand for the seat of Menzies and be able to attract 15000 votes away from Andrews. He/She would come second on the primary count and gain Labor preferences to finish first on the 2PP. It’s a huge challenge, but if Cathy McGowan could do it in a safe seat like Indi, why not someone in Menzies?

  4. Michael Taylor

    I take pity, John.

  5. revolutionarycitizen

    Democracy is losing an election even though you got more votes than your opponent…

  6. Florence nee Fedup

    I like the idea of more independents. What has Jacqui Lambie done that is so bad?

  7. Florence nee Fedup

    Democracy, is each electorate voting in one MP. Democracy is when each MP vote is equal. MPs represent and are answerable to their electorate, not any party or other group.

    Well that is what our constitution seems to say. It says that legalisation is passed on the floor of each house by the same MPs. Parties, government and oppositions and PM is the way these MPs organise themselves. Parties can come and go.

  8. mludowyk

    I hope the people of Adelaide get themselves organised and toss out Christopher Pyne. He’s an odious man.

  9. John Fraser


    Gee …… wouldn't that be a surprise.

    A government that got office even though they had less votes than their opponents.

    Astounding !

  10. Kerri

    I had been fantasizing recently about a “no party” political system where each candidate spent time traditionally wasted at party meetings conferring with their electorate, the people who got them where they are, and therefore voted according to instruction rather than the relevant bribes that got them there. Good god Morrison was out voted at pre-selection 82-8 and he recently was given powers over and above the supreme court!!!! Clearly something is wrong with our system!

  11. John Fraser


    I've got a pretty good Labor bloke in my electorate and I invited him to put some corflutes on 2 of my properties …. one high traffic and the other close to where he lived …… the year that Julia Gillard went to the polls as Prime Minister of Australia.

    Unless an extraordinary independent candidate puts his hand up The Greens will get my vote in both the Reps and Senate and Labor will get the preferences …. unless of course Shorten shows something.

    cheesus theres some bad ones in Abbotts Liberal gang …… and K. Andrews certainly is right up there.

  12. John McCulloch (@csaw59)

    However, in the Newcastle region it hasn’t taken long for the Liberal Party to cotton on to the electorate fondness of voting for an ‘independent’ candidate with Jeff McCloy (former Liberal member & now disgraced Lord Mayor), Brad Luke (Newcastle Branch President & voted in as Liberal Party councilor in 2012, stood unsuccessfully for recent Lord Mayor election as an independent) & now Karen Howard (stood an an independent at the recent Newcastle bi-election, now endorsed as the Liberal Candidate in 2015) all trying to cover their political affiliations by claiming to be independent.

    The Liberals have now even debased the idea of an independent candidate!

  13. Sean Stinson

    @Tony Rabbit – I think you have missed the point. Lambie left the party to become an independent, and I commend her for that decision regardless of what I think of her personal politics or lack thereof.

    Yes democracy has its limitations, but as Sir ScotchMistery says, we are not a democracy. Not by a long shot. 30 or so independents with a genuine desire to represent their electorate would be democratic at least. Formulating policy would be interesting – it would be one hell of a round table!

    Of course there is the danger that we could end up with 15 David Leyonhjelms and 10 Bob Day’s, which wouldn’t leave much fence for 5 Nick Zenophons to sit on. Then again we could end up with a whole bunch of Andrew Wilkies which would solve our immigration problems and stop us running off to war at the U.S.’ behest.

    30 independents would be a democracy, but just enough decent, intelligent, forward-thinking individuals who aren’t sociopaths holding the balance of power would be a step forward, and maybe more achievable?

  14. stephentardrew

    What is wrong with our system is poor education of the populace who are still held in chains to mendacious historicism and backward referring primitivism. That science is so easily ignored by the majority while the leaders of this country follow fairies who believe in self- regulation and the invisible hand – naive myths perpetrated by insatiable oligarchs. Eventually magic and mythology matter little when your God is the God of avarice. When greed rules any form of justification is acceptable regardless of the irrationality.

    People cannot make logically informed decisions because they are not informed by rationality and brute facts. Opinion rules while they destroy the environment leaving masses in poverty yet live in absurd opulence.

    And people vote for them.

    Regardless I am all for your quest John just to add to the pool of discontent that may force a rethink of the current primitive dysfunctional paradigm.

    I am not giving up.

  15. DanDark

    “The voters made up their minds about Abbott even before he was opposition leader. They’ve never liked him. They’ve never trusted him. They’ve never wanted him. And, unless the Liberal Party can come up with a popular and credible alternative, it will be consigned to political oblivion as quickly and decisively as its Labor Party predecessors.”

  16. Sir ScotchMistery

    Good lord. Something has hit a nerve.

    Thank you people. Keith you might like to pop in and look at records re pay and commitments. You will understand my reticence I’m sure, old chap.

    Party member = party policy. End of story.

  17. eli nes

    perhaps the reason for abbutt as PM stems from the good people of labor being left to flounder against the good people of the coalition’s slogans. In 2015 the good people of labor still cannot counter abbutt’s achievements even when there aren’t any, why???
    I am unsure that labor understands the process of osmosis but it seems to be the party plan for 2016.

  18. CMMC

    Yes, in Newcastle we have Liberal candidates who suddenly morph into Independents.

    This strategy may be more widely employed as conservative hopefuls try to cleanse themselves of the putrid Abbott stench.

    So, good idea but voter fragmentation always ends up favouring the Right.

  19. Amy

    Interesting article. On a technical point, I think rather than Warrnambool, you mean Wangaratta? Warrnambool isn’t in the electorate of Indi – it’s in the far west of Victoria.

  20. adam

    It’s not a bad idea but if you have too many independent party’s, nothing would get done.

  21. Roscoe

    I would rather have an independent working for my needs than a party member working for the parties needs, although my concern would be vouching for the true independence of the candidates, as will be soon seen at ICAC I believe. but it is time the ‘party’ system of politics is gone

  22. Florence nee Fedup

    Why would nothing get done with more independents. There would have to be more debate, more effort at convincing others, but surely decisions would be made.

    Votes would be taken. proposals either accepted or rejected.

    Coalitions would form. Not necessary for every piece of legalisation.

  23. Kaye Lee

    I think we should ban political advertising as they have done in the UK. The ban on political and religious advertising in the UK has been in force for nearly 60 years.

    “The government’s view was the ban on political advertising was necessary to avoid the risk that public debate would be distorted in the most powerful available media because those with the deepest pockets would have the loudest voices. Most campaign groups couldn’t afford it.

    Unregulated broadcasting of paid political advertisements would turn democratic influence into a commodity that would undermine broadcasting impartiality, the government argued. The ban was designed to enhance the political debate rather than restrict it.”

    Candidates are given free air time on the national broadcaster during election campaigns.

  24. Terry2

    Seeing democracy at work in the UN Security Council this week was an exercise in cynicism : the Palestinians proposed, through a resolution put up on their behalf by Jordan, that the territories occupied by Israel since the 1967 war be vacated, by the Israelis, by 2017 (i.e. fifty years after first being occupied) and that the 1967 borders be reinstated.

    Not an unreasonable proposition, you may think and one inline with UN prior commitments and resolutions but one that Australia could not find it in its heart to support having previously dropped the term ‘occupied territories’ from our diplomatic lingo. Eight of the fifteen security council members supported the proposition and one more vote would have carried it leaving the USA in the unenviable situation of applying its veto if it thought appropriate. Indeed, only the USA and Australia voted against the resolution – five nations abstained evidently under pressure from the US. Significantly the European block, Russia and China (permanent members of the Security Council) voted in favour.

    It seems that our rationale in voting against the proposition was twofold, firstly that the resolution was unilateral in that it came from the Palestinians without the support of Israel ; which begs the question that if the Israelis supported the resolution then it wouldn’t be necessary at all.

    The other, curious reason was that the time frame of 2017 was too tight which, after fifty years and umpteen resolutions to revert to 1967 boundaries, seems a bit shallow. But it appears that the true rationale is that the Israelis have no intention of reverting to the 1967 borders or anything like that – and no,I am not anti Israel in fact I am very much supportive of their rights to a secure homeland but I’m not sure that this is the way to go about that objective.

    The sad thing for Australia is that, whilst we are happy to vote against a resolution of this sort, we actually have no alternative resolution to offer : it may have been more suitable for us to merely abstain if we could not bring ourselves to support a very reasonable way forward.

  25. jagman48

    Labor in some seats have undergone a process of “Community Candidates”. An interesting process that involves the whole community, not just Labor voters. Also door knocking and phone calls to aid the candidate in the next NSW election.

    Not the complete answer I know. But perhaps a start.

  26. vivienne29

    Your memory did get a bit rusty. You refer to 2014 when it was 2013. Other than that you got it close it enough. One thing though was that no one in Voice for Indi was to refer to the name Mirabella. A lot of people couldn’t stand Mirabella and her nasty supporters are still up to dirty tricks.
    I might add that at a fundraising dinner a woman came up to me and asked ‘why do people take an instant dislike to Sophie Mirabella?’ – in a flash she answered ‘because it saves time’.

  27. John Fraser


    New Zealand doesn't allow the bullshit we have around polling booths on election day.

    And i’m guilty of doing it for both major political parties.

  28. Damo451

    John Kelly ,i know the area well ,what strikes me as odd is that Doncaster has a quite a large Chinese/asian population.
    So how did the ” pasty faced ponce ” ( NT country Liberal reference ) get enough votes to get over the line ?
    By voting in a representative of such a xenophobic ,racist party ,werent they voting against their own interests ?
    Great article ScotchMistery , i have thought for a long time now that we have 2 choices for good governance in Australia.
    1. A Greens led government , with Bill Shortens Liberals having the balance of power in the senate to provide some fiscal and policy forming experience.
    2. Or your suggestion of a lot of Indis in the mix to shake things up a bit.
    Whatever happens this current mob needs to be flushed down the toilet of oblivion to be never seen again.
    Just on a side note ,when a party refers to someone being one of the brightest talents in the party ,why is it their talent always seem to be corruption ( Sinodinos ) or cruelty and nastiness ( Bishop and Morrison )
    Is a politician being touted as a rising talent just political speak for ‘ The best grifter we have ‘ ?

  29. Dented

    Murdoch’s stated aim was to destroy the Greens. Voters suffer from information poverty. Australians know very little about their policies and excellent candidates. Also don’t accept corporate dollars.

  30. Sir ScotchMistery

    @Amy mea culpa. It is Wangaratta not Warnambool.

    @Vivienne I’m shell shocked as I approach my 60th how fast things are moving. The “Indi Shares” conference was most definitely in June 2014 however.

    I cannot begin to thank people for offering both supportive feedback and reasonable questions. I don’t think the idea is too difficult but an article on ABC I read this morning actually adds to the thought that Australia can get out of the morass of political parties and presumptive oligarchy.

    In terms of Jacquie Lambie for whom I hold no great love, but for whom I have some respect for getting out of the dogfight known as the Palmer party, she has shown that there is no one holding her leash which can only be a good thing for Australia regarding the senate control of bad policy.

    Things will change only when we wrest back control of the parliament from ALP and LNP, both of whom don’t now and haven’t for years, represented the aspirations of the electorate at large. Rather they represent their “out of house” paymasters who don’t start paying until the member /employee leaves parliament.

    The notes about changing sides during a parliament, is sorry of moot because of the way the member is employed by the electorate during the campaign and so on. They know how easy it was to put them into place. They would be aware of just how easily they could be replaced.

    None of this is true of the parties. Their members only loyalty, once in place, is to the party. The electorate runs a very distant second. In the Indi process the electorate comes first and second.

    Regarding the round table, I don’t see how that can be an issue. They could form a voting bloc, but how would that be a bad thing? Some would be conservative and it would be pointless complaining if they represented an electorate of conservatives. It would be unreasonable to say that would be wrong, but I’d be surprised to see conservatives doing anything not approved by the party and the machine of conservative politics.

    Only progressives (greens for example) ever look outside the box for ways to change how we view what is being done to us in the name of “government”.

  31. Ross in Gippsland

    “Does not appear to be representing anybody but the “insert name” party, and most certainly not their electorate”.

    Would be a fair description of most of the current crop of pollies, certainly true in my electorate and the major reason why Independents are becoming such a focus for disillusioned rural electorates.

    Indi provided the blueprint for a change in the balance of power back towards the voters and most probably scared the bejesus more out of the Nationals than the Liberals.

    Only time will tell, this next two years should be very interesting.

  32. Matters Not

    A question, re the Member for Indi, does she ‘behave’ as a ‘delegate’ or a ‘representative’.

    While I don’t want to get into ‘deep and meaningful’ discussion about meanings given to words, it’s usually the case that a Delegate is required to at least consult (even take a vote where possible) with the electorate re any legislation before casting a vote in the Parliament.

    A Representative on the other hand has a much greater degree of freedom. Representatives can vote as to how they think the electorate would want them to vote (perhaps) and only be held accountable at the next election.

    Anyone know how the Member for Indi operates?

    And do we want ‘politicians’ who act as ‘delegates’ (we now have the technology to consult widely with due haste) or do we want them to continue to be ‘representatives’?

  33. Diane Teasdale


    4. Do you identify as a feminist (or agree with feminist principles)?

    5. Are you Pro-Choice?

    6. Do you support same-sex marriage rights?
    I fully support equal rights for same-sex couples to marry, and believe marriage inequality is a form of discrimination, which has no place in Australian law or society. The legal and institutional framework that governs Australia should treat all people equally. As a society we’ve made huge progress, but there are still many legal and institutional barriers that some groups in our society face.

    7. Nominate one of the following issues (Asylum Seeker Intake, the environment, issues concerning Indigenous Australians, Managing the economy) and why it’s personally important to you:
    As a member of the Rural Australians for Refugees group, I have a great interest in asylum seeker issues. I feel that refugee issues are far too important to be treated as a political football by the major parties, because the nuances and human costs of the issues are lost. In dealing with asylum seekers and refugees, we need a system that respects international law, is fair and ensures people’s health, safety and dignity is maintained. A bipartisan approach to this issue is absolutely vital. This requires respectful, coolheaded discussion between both parties and all segments of Australian society.

    “I am not a protectionist. I am committed to free trade”
    “But I think the Science is in on Climate Change. I believe it is real.”
    “I believe I am totally and utterly independent”

    She was also an active member of Voice for Indi from its inception
    (CAMBELL KLOSE 10-6-2013)

    …and is a life member of Australian Women in Agriculture
    (CAMBELL KLOSE 10-6-2013)

    …former president of Australian Women in Agriculture
    (THE AGE 27-9-2013)

    Cathy McGowan is a former National Party electorate officer.
    (WOMEN’S AGENDA 12-9-2013)

    “In the 1980s, Cathy worked for the Liberal Member for Indi, Ewen Cameron. But she has worked hard in Community services and is a past President of Australian Women in Agriculture”

    ”Not only has it worked, it worked in four months, from nothing,” McGowan says. ”In four months we ran a campaign, we did it very honourably, we won, and we were inclusive, all these young people came on board … and we’ve got the rest of Australia looking on and going, ‘Oh my god, what did you guys do?”’
    (THE AGE 27-9-2013)

    “Speaking from the Chiltern bakery, she also thanked those from Sydney and Melbourne who had contributed funds to her grassroots campaign.”
    (BENDIGO ADVERTISER 18-9-2013)

    Income $835,962
    Expenses $1,006,131
    Accumulated Funds at End of Financial Year $6,089,678
    (ANNUAL REPORT 2011-12)

    The intellectual grunt behind @Indigocathy Indi victory: @sarah_capper report

    Image by No Fibs citizen journalist Wayne Jansson taken on election night, of Alana Johnson, Cathy McGowan and Mary Crooks.

    By Sarah Capper – Sheila’s editor – 20 September 2013

    When Jeff Kennett lost the “unlosable” Victorian election in 1999, the Victorian Women’s Trust’s Mary Crooks wasn’t overly surprised.

    In the years leading up the state poll, in her new role as Executive Director of the VWT, Crooks designed and led the ‘Purple Sage Project’ – which involved a community ‘kitchen table’ dialogue process with some 6000 people across the state.

    During this time, over 600 female and male group leaders (76% were women, all of whom had been taken through briefing sessions, many in country Victoria), met in their own groups of up to ten people. These individual groups met on average for three hours in their lounge rooms, church halls, book clubs, and yes, at their kitchen tables.

    These group leaders then reported back their findings to the project team. From the 6000 participants, common themes emerged – people were disturbed by an erosion of democratic culture, they were concerned about unemployment and youth unemployment, and they sensed their communities being weakened. They were angry about the loss of Victoria’s public assets.

    “There was a mood across electorates demonstrating how citizens felt incredibly disengaged from their representatives, as well as being despairing and angry about a range of policies and their impacts on people and communities. While polling and many commentators assumed the Kennett Government would be returned, the mood for change was completely underestimated – the Purple Sage Project gauged this mood and I knew Kennett was set to lose a swag of seats,” Mary reflects.

    That he did, with Steve Bracks forming a minority Labor government, and with Labor then governing in their own right for the next decade in Victoria.

    Fourteen years later, Mary Crooks is similarly unsurprised by Independent Cathy McGowan’s remarkable victory in Indi, seen by many as an “upset”, causing a swing of over 9% against the sitting Liberal Member Sophie Mirabella – despite consistent swings towards the Liberal Party across the country ushering in the new Abbott Government.

    As part of a newly emerging community led group Voice 4 Indi, Cathy McGowan also tapped into the ‘mood’ of the electorate, and was part of the group’s initial dozen members who met in August 2012.

    The Seat of Indi stretches across Victoria’s North-East corner, taking in the major towns of Wodonga, Wangaratta and Benalla. Its history is steeped in conservative politics, which makes the 2013 result all the more interesting. The 2013 election story of Indi is not about a negative reaction to a ‘divisive’ local member, and it is not about a one-off ‘fluke’ result in favour of a conservative independent.

    “Rather than this being seen as Sophie Mirabella losing Indi, it is actually about Cathy McGowan winning the Seat,” Mary Crooks explains.

    For Crooks, Cathy McGowan’s successful bid for the Seat, through the community group Voice 4 Indi, represents “a carefully-constructed, structured campaign” which began last August, 2012.

    Along with Cathy McGowan, farmer and rural consultant and VWT Board member Alana Johnson was one of the original members of Indi residents at the initial Voice 4 Indi committee meetings. Johnson explains that one of the motivating factors behind the group meeting was to address the disengagement around politics, particularly with young people living in what is conceived to be a safe seat who didn’t think their vote mattered. There was also a level of frustration at the level of debate in Canberra, in what many saw as being reduced to nasty political slanging matches.

    “We felt that if we as interested community people didn’t demonstrate that we can do something about this, then we absolutely deserve the leadership we have,” Johnson says.

    In working out how to create a method of engaging other members of the electorate, the group contacted the Victorian Women’s Trust Executive Director to travel up for the day and brief them.

    As a long-term Board member of the Trust, Alana had been involved in the Purple Sage Project’s ‘Kitchen Table’ conversation process, and she was also involved in using the process around water, as part of the VWT’s six-year Watermark Australia project.

    ‘Our Water Mark’ combined the actions and stories of many citizens and scientists working together around water reform (culminating in a June 2007 publication, at the height of Australia’s drought). As with Purple Sage, Our Water Mark tapped into everyday Australians’ views on a critical issue – and thousands were engaged in the kitchen table conversation process.

    So when the Voice 4 Indi group was ready to engage with people across the electorate, Mary Crooks, the architect of the model as used by the VWT for two major community-based projects, seemed an obvious choice to help the group nut down their values and vision.

    Mary traveled (on a late train, but of course) up to Wangaratta on the day before Melbourne Cup in early November 2012. Apart from engaging in some intensive work clarifying the vision and values that would underpin the Voice 4 Indi’s efforts, Mary also helped the group shape the initial communications materials needed to engage with the community.

    Leading up to this meeting, Crooks had penned the publication ‘A Switch in Time’ (published in September, 2012), which outlined the toxicity that had encompassed the federal political environment heightened during the Gillard minority government – a concern which was shared by the group in their initial meetings.

    Mary Crooks knew immediately that Voice 4 Indi had something special from the initial November meeting – that the committee members of the group “got it”:

    “They were smart and they were prepared to listen. And even I think those who were a bit reluctant at first were totally on board with the process by the day’s end,” Crooks recalls.

    Or as Johnson explains, “A couple of the men from science backgrounds were quite taken by Mary and the force of her personality and speaking abilities. They saw that the kitchen table conversations were a sensible path to follow.”

    When the group formed, there was some debate about immediately introducing an independent candidate, but as Johnson explains, “Mary demonstrated to the people who were really keen for change at the political level, that real change in the community was the first important step, reflected by a solid process of genuine community engagement.”

    Following the meeting, Mary Crooks provided some follow up assistance in drafting the all important materials that would be given to every group leader in the electorate in order to host the kitchen table conversations, and in “explaining to people that whole notion that democracy is a conversation between equals about the future”.

    Prior to Johnson leading one of the host briefings (Johnson ran the Benalla host briefing session, guiding hosts implementing the process), she traveled with Cathy McGowan to India last December as part of a women’s agricultural tour. She says that the bus ride in India helped them shape “what sort of conversation we wanted to have as part of the discussions, and what sort of information we were looking for.”

    Also prior to the electorate conversations taking place, the group decided to approach the sitting Indi Member Sophie Mirabella – to explain the group’s purpose and project they would be undertaking.

    They had initially been reluctant to publicise their initial meetings – partly because of a polite country tradition of not talking about politics, as a number of members had clients or customers across the political spectrum, and partly because there was some fear of retribution. But once the aims of the group had been better established, “we thought it was consistent with our values and notions of transparency that the Voice 4 Indi belonged to all the people.”

    The subsequent meeting between McGowan and another representative from the group with Mirabella turned out to be an incredibly short – eleven minute – meeting. Johnson said Mirabella’s response was that she “already knew what the issues were” – and cited cost of living as the main concern – ironically an issue that did not actually emerge from the kitchen table conversations involving hundreds in her electorate.

    By the end of April, the ‘Kitchen Table Conversations’ had occurred across Indi, with over 400 people engaged in the process.

    Using the Purple Sage model, each group host had a set of guiding questions to help the conversations, as well as a scribe. The same ground rules adopted in Purple Sage were re-employed so that participants all had a say.

    “The Kitchen Table Conversations created a vehicle or a place that was not only welcoming and safe, because it didn’t matter what your party politics were, but you were there because your ideas were going to be valued,” Johnson says.

    Cathy McGowan’s young and enthusiastic young team after the speeches on election night. Image by No Fibs citizen journalist Wayne Jansson.

    Johnson is also grateful for the “incredible amount of conceptual work that Mary Crooks provided in helping us take all the information that we gathered and in being able to distill it,” (which happened when Mary met with the group for a second time earlier this year, and on another late train, yes).

    “When Mary came up a second time, we were grappling with collating everything. She did two key things – she assisted us to process faithfully all the output from all the groups, and secondly, she helped provide a template for reporting back to all the people involved.”

    As the resulting Report notes, one of the key learnings to emerge from the conversations was around political representation.

    “It became really apparent people wanted more from their representatives, they wanted a different type of relationship with their representative, and many wanted their representative to be a rural person who understood them,” Johnson says.

    At this point, the group began talking with different people about their interest in running as a possible independent candidate, but as Johnson notes, “it became pretty obvious that Cathy McGowan would be outstanding for job”.

    After weighing up the decision, McGowan agreed, and was announced as the endorsed candidate for Voice 4 Indi when the group launched the Report of their findings from the Kitchen Table Conversations. It was endorsed by the audience, or as Johnson puts it, “the 400 people at the Report’s launch were ecstatic when we announced Cathy as candidate, and it just rolled on from there.”

    With a rock solid candidate now on board, the Voice 4 Indi group drew on the high quality community engagement process throughout the electorate to fashion and run a sophisticated election campaign. It involved hundreds of sharp, energetic and committed volunteers – women and men of all ages – carrying out the group’s ethos of respecting and enriching the broader political conversation.

    The campaign rolled on, always gathering momentum. At one stage of the campaign, leaked an email from Mirabella’s camp which talked about being “severely outflanked and outgunned by a far more active and enthusiastic campaign team”.

    Johnson attributes the “inspired young people” who came to help – some of whom are nieces and nephews of Cathy, and their friends – some of whom took time off from their jobs or university to help with the campaign. Amongst many other elements, they helped shape a savvy social media strategy.

    Other volunteers of all ages also came to the fold, in inspiring ways:
    “Some people just brought food to the campaign offices every day. Some people started screenprinting, others doing graphics. It was just this organic process of people coming together and providing their skills. The further the campaign went along, the more people appeared with the next layer of skills needed,” Johnson says.

    And it appears they don’t mean to stop now that Cathy has been elected, with Mirabella conceding defeat yesterday. Johnson believes it will be an “ongoing conversation” with Cathy about doing politics differently. She says McGowan is keen to act as a “conduit between people with good ideas, and people in decision making processes”.

    “Cathy – and the group – really wants this to be an expression of a new relationship between a member of parliament and their constituents, and between parliamentary processes and the people. The whole aim of the group is to create what we think looks more like a 21st century democracy,”

    Bring it. Welcome, Cathy McGowan MP, the new Independent Member and ‘Voice’ for Indi.

    Postscript: Mary Crooks reckons there is an important broader context to the Indi success story that goes to the heart of the relationship between elected representatives and the people they serve, and ultimately to the overall health of our democratic culture.

    Purple Sage participants were alert to some of the risks way back in the late 1990s:
    “There were three candidates in my electorate – Liberal, Labor and the Hope party. The Hope party candidate did not have a listed telephone number. The Labor person had a mobile telephone. He lived some distance from the electorate. He arranged to come and see me, but didn’t. I left the questions with the Liberal candidate and made several phone calls before the election. I then wrote to him after the election, but have not had any response. I have written to him again and I hope he might eventually reply.” (Purple Sage Group Leader, metropolitan Melbourne, 2000:41)

    The final Purple Sage document (2000: 34), observed:
    “While many ordinary women and men around the State were pushed to the margins, mounting evidence suggested the existence of an inner circle of unelected and unaccountable men wielding enormous power and influence over the directions of the State…Talkback radio replaced consultation. While there were concerned and committed journalists, by and large the media, at management level, were seduced and intimidated.

    The corrosion of democratic culture occurred in the same manner that a slow drip of water corrodes. Week after week, month after month, antic after antic, the ethical bar, so critical to the overall health of a democracy, was lowered.” Our national politics over the past few years has arguably reached a new low.

    Maybe, just maybe, the Indi experience triggers some upward movement?

    Editor Sarah Capper writes a monthly ‘Polly Ticks’ column for Sheilas.
    No Fibs Indi campaign archive
    – See more at:

    An initiative of the Victorian Women’s Trust

    Included in the list of supporters was long time friend, Cathy McGowan

    “Mary has been the Executive Director of the Victorian Women’s Trust since 1996. She has an extensive background in public policy and a passionate commitment to social justice. In her role As Executive Director Mary has undertaken extensive research and advocacy on crucial issues for women, and has designed and led some ground-breaking initiatives including the Purple Sage Project, Ordinary Women Extraordinary Lives, and the Watermark Australia project, an exceptional example of a nationwide, community engagement project based around issues of water sustainability. In 2012 Mary authored A Switch in Time – Restoring Respect to Australian Politics which has been distributed widely across Australia.”

    September 2012 Voice for Indi Vision statement: Reckon they got there?
    September 11, 2013

    Voice for Indi elders Denis Ginnivan and Alana Johnson, foundation members of V4i, talk future plans

    By Margo Kingston

    On election night at the Wangaratta Arts Centre, a movement leader, Susan Benedyka read out the Voice4Indi movements vision statement of 6 September 2012. No wonder Orange Indi took the roof off a year later.

    “Alana Johnson is named in the 100 Women of Influence in Australia by the Australian Financial Review. She is recognized nationally and internationally for her work in Change Management, Leadership Training and Rural Development. Alana is a fifth generation farmer, a pioneer in rural women’s leadership in Australia and internationally and a founder of Australian Women in Agriculture. Alana was the 2010 Victorian Rural Women’s Award winner and Australian runner up. In 2011 she was a panel member on ABC television Q&A and featured in Women’s Word of Wisdom launched by the Governor General. Alana has held many public and Board positions and is currently Chair of the Women’s Advisory Panel to the Victorian Minister for Agriculture, a Director of the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation and Director of the Victorian Women’s Trust. She has been awarded an Australian post-graduate scholarship to research sustainable Agriculture in Australia.”

    “Alana is a farmer and rural consultant. She has worked extensively on behalf of rural women and is the National President of the Foundation for Australian Agricultural Women. Alana is also the inaugural chair of the Dugdale Trust for Women and Girls.”

    “Special thanks for contributors to events: Margo Kingston”

    “Credit where credit is due – This advertisement appeared in the Age – Placed by the Victorian Women’s Trust and signed by Mary Crooks and Diana Batzias, the advertisement pays tribute to the work of the former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard”

    “My result as the Greens candidate has been decimated – from almost 10% in 2010 to just over three percent.”
    “The young McGowan Team members – some of whom were usually Green voters – embrace me enthusiastically, and I found myself in the strange positions of being both Cathy’s political adversary but also developing great relationship with her team.”

    “Prepolling and Election Day were a real challenge for my campaign. It is always a struggle to get enough people to cover all the polling booths and two weeks of prepolling added an enormous burden – made all the more difficult with the all too frequent response of “sorry, I’m handing out for Cathy” to a request to the usual volunteers.”

    “The swing against Ms Mirabella is about 7.5 per cent and, while Ms McGowan is receiving about 90 per cent of Labor and Greens preferences, she will find it difficult to bridge the gap.”
    (THE AGE 9-9-2013)

    “Cathy played it pretty safe in these forums although she was challenged repeatedly about her allegiance with the parties – Greens, Labor or Nationals depending on who was asking. Her focus was always on local issues: broadband, mobile black spots and the notoriously unreliable VLine train service.
    She declared her support for marriage equality but did not have a clear position on reducing carbon emissions or preventing offshore processing of asylum seekers, opting for a self evident “we need a bipartisan approach” position.
    For a policy-focussed person like me this was frustrating, and I was initially surprised that it really didn’t seem to matter to people who I know have strong views on these issues, but they said that Cathy was a decent person and they trusted she would make the right call if she was elected.
    It was clear that the main game was to unseat Sophie Mirabella, which people rightly believed was much more likely to be achieved by a locally based Independent candidate than Greens or Labor. Cathy and her team did not engage in this discussion publicly, but it was clearly the sentiment of many of her supporters.”

    “It was as unclear to me then as it is today what they stand for on a range of important issues, but they were clearly driven by a primary desire to remove the current incumbent, Sophie Mirabella.”
    “Throughout the campaign, Cathy has failed to offer clarity on her positions on a range of issues…..”
    (JENNIFER PODESTA 5-9-2013)

    “Jasper: It is interesting because I have spoken to Cathy on a number of issues, one of the key ones I said is, you don’t say you are the best candidate, you say you believe that you are the best candidate. That’s a small one but the other thing is listen to people. I learnt very early in my political career that when you meet people they tend to tell you what they want to tell you, and I trained myself to say, ‘Well what do you think?’ You have got to be responsive and I think Cathy is doing that, she’s going around listening to people and responding, that is the issue.”
    (KEN JASPER INTERVIEW 30-8-2013)

    “A switch in Time – restoring respect to Australian politics by Mary Crooks. Due to popular demand we have now exhausted the first print run of 13,000 copies…
    “Watch the key note speeches from the Switch in Time Melbourne event held on the 30th of November 20112. Featuring Tony Windsor MP independent Member for New England and Mary Crooks Exectuive Director VWT here….”

    “Our paper A Switch in Time aims to help. It is said ‘the public has stopped listening’ to government. We would put it differently. Vast sections of the public are standing back and uneasily watching a trashing of respect. They want no involvement in the unedifying behaviour or discourse that is “owned” and dominated by a privileged handful of media owners, radio presenters, sections of business and allied, oppositional commentators. They are, however, hungry for opportunities to reclaim civility and respect in the way our politics is done; and to play a constructive part in redirecting negative, destructive undercurrents towards a more productive and civil political discourse.”
    (MARY CROOKS – THE AGE 16-9-2012)

    “20,000 readers of the document by January multiplied by an average of at least 10 conversations that those readers have with their families and their friends and work colleagues, is already close to a quarter of a million forming part of a social movement. “The event drew a large crowd and new Switch supporters took to social media: Throw the switch, re-direct the current!”

    “Two community groups have joined forces to campaign for water consumption in Melbourne to be cut to ease pressure on irrigators and river systems in northern Victoria.
    The Alternative Technology Association and Watermark Australia have launched a campaign called Our Water Our Vote in the lead-up to the Victorian election on November 27.
    Watermark Australia is an initiative of the Victorian Women’s Trust which promotes the efficient use of water while the ATA is a not-for-profit organisation, promoting sustainable technology and practice in building design, water conservation and use of renewable energy.
    There is justified frustration in northern Victoria over the water stress in the Murray-Darling Basin,” Watermark Australia project director Mary Crooks said.”
    (SHEPPARTON NEWS 1-11-2010)

    “A member of the Melbourne Water Steering Committee for this project is Mary Crooks, executive Officer of the Victorian Women’s Trust and founder member of Purple Sage, a grassroots organization formed at the height of the Kennett years to empower citizens and protect Victoria’s democracy. Purple Sage has taken on water management as its major project for the next three years with the intention of making it a national campaign. With Mary’s assistance the students are going out into the community to form and run their discussion groups about water….”

    “2005 REVENUE $450,000
    FOUNDED 1994, Canberra based.
    Directors include ACTU president Sharan Burrow and the head of the Victorian Women’s Trust, Mary Crooks.
    Bulk of funding from offshoot of Rupert Murdoch’s family, the Kantors, who direct money through two private organisations.
    Executive director Clive Hamilton, an academic economist and senior public servant, he held visiting academic positions at Cambridge University, the Australian National University and the University of Sydney.
    Prefers the label “progressive” to left wing, the institute aims to counter the influence of conservative rivals. Outspoken about climate change and a range of other environmental, social and economic issues.”

    “Over the last year six community-based groups have joined together to seek the views of some 5,000 people across Victoria-people who feel disenfranchised by the Kennett Government’s style. They have not been chosen at random; rather the opposite.
    The project, called Purple Sage, deliberately aims at empowering people to speak up about their feelings, and according to convenor Mary Crooks, people talk passionately of the emotional loss of former state assets.
    Mary Crooks: People are saying to us that these-their assets have been sold off to the highest bidder without any real concept or appreciation of what those assets have meant to people and whether they’ve been properly valued and indeed whether or not people are going to realise the material benefits from the sale.
    What we’ve been able to-to explore are the way in which people attach a whole lot of deeper meaning and significance to that privatisation program.”
    (AM ARCHIVE 26-6-1999)

    Vern Hughes – Vern lives in Melbourne, Australia. He is Director of the Centre for Civil Society, a member of the Anglican Church, and a jazz pianist.
    “Vern Hughes was also at the first meeting. He later served on the management committee and was the forum’s secretary for its final years until the election of the Kennett government in 1992. He said the idea of the forum was clear, but also contained the seeds of its demise. “There was no real place on the Left where there could be open, non-factional discussion about important issues and strategic questions.” Over the years, a tension developed within the forum between those interested in working within Labor governments and those who weren’t.”

    “Vern Hughes, executive director of Social Enterprise Partnerships and national president of People Power, has vigorously promoted co-operatives as the alternative to corporate capitalism and state socialism.
    In the late 1990s, Mark Latham seemed a rarity in Australian politics: a politician who read widely, wrote prolifically, and vented opinions outside his party’s canon of approved thoughts.
    His themes in the years from 1997 to 2002 were the right themes for Australia: deficiencies in public and private governance; the relationships between citizens (and between citizens and governments); our declining stocks of social capital; the capture of our key institutions by “insiders”; and the pervasiveness of disenchantment as our number one political song.
    These themes in the UK and North America in the 1990s were linked with the Third Way debate. In Australia, that debate never got off the ground. Mark Latham was the only federal politician prepared to welcome the discussion.”

    “The Centre for Civil Society, a public policy institute, is helping to form a new political party made up of community sector leaders to contest the next Federal Election.
    The CCS is inviting interested community leaders to help form a Public Commission for a new major party in Australia to be called the Heart and Soul of Australia.
    The Commission is described as a citizens’ initiative, aiming to enrol 100 participants in each Federal Electorate from Australia’s 150 electorates by March 2013.
    A spokesperson for the Convening Group Joanne Stuart says Australia’s communities lack voice and infrastructure.
    “Expressions of interest are invited for 150 community leaders to coordinate a national network of community voice and local infrastructure to empower Australia’s communities and reconnect them with public decision-making,” she said.
    “The Heart and Soul of Australia is a citizen’s initiative to bring Australians together in a movement that can change the direction of Australian public life by representing local communities and ordinary people in Parliaments and public institutions.
    The members of the convening group comprise a mixture of small business and Not for Profit leaders from around the country including Domenic Greco the Executive Director of the Convenience and Mixed Business Association, Sharon Everson the CEO of The Deaf Society in NSW, Greg Bondar, the CEO of Tharawal Aboriginal Land Council and the Director of the Centre for Civil Society Vern Hughes.
    Back in 2006, Vern Hughes was also part of a new community based political party called People Power which was registered Federally and was set up to contest the Victorian, Queensland and NSW elections.”

    “The party was first established in 2000 by Vern Hughes and Crikey founder Stephen Mayne, only to be suspended a the end of 2001. It was then re-established in 2004 and registered in 2006.
    Former Australian Labor Party (ALP) member for Benalla Denise Allen contested the Northern Victoria Legislative Council seat.”

    “She [Sophie Mirabella] and her allies have been accused this year of meddling in the Wangaratta council.”
    (THE AGE 11-9-2013)

    “United Nations Conference on Environment and Development
    Sustaining local communities: part of a local Agenda 21 program for Australia prepared for Municipal Conservation Association be Deni Greene and Mary Crooks. North Carlton, Vic.: Deni Greene Consulting Services, 1993”
    Funded by the Department of Environment, Sport and Territories.

    “However, the last-minute discovery of a little over 1000 votes for Ms McGowan appears likely to give her candidacy a decisive buffer. Mr Perrett calculated Ms McGowan was now likely to emerge the winner by as much as 800 votes.

    The AEC officials in Wangaratta began searching for the “lost” votes because of an anomaly between votes cast in Indi for the House of Representatives and the Senate.

    The small bonanza for Ms McGowan appeared when a box containing counted votes was found to have been wrongly marked. The box was marked as containing 1115 votes for Ms McGowan.

    It actually contained 2118.

    An AEC spokesman said scrutineers realised there was a “clear difference” in the number of first-preference votes for Ms McGowan in the House of Representatives count and the Senate count during a check of the votes.

    The votes had been counted and scrutinised, he said, but had not yet been added to the total vote count.

    “Across all the 11.3 million or so votes counted, coming back to counting centres, the reason we do all the checking and the fresh runs of all the ballots again is to pick up anything that may be like this and to be absolutely sure that everything’s reconciled. So this is an example of where we found something.”

    The spokesman revealed 42 scrutineers were at the Wangaratta counting centre. “Many votes are being challenged, mostly from one side,” he said. “It’s slow going.”

    He said: “After election night every polling place returns its votes to the divisional counting centre for every electorate. We undertake further scrutiny and further checking of all the votes and all the numbers around it; we do that for every vote.

    “In this instance we found a discrepancy in what were scrutineered and already counted votes … it’s more the transcription error and getting it into our system. It’s basically an accounting issue.””
    (SMH 11-9-2013)

    “The votes were found at the Wangaratta pre-polling station after the AEC revealed there were 1,000 more Senate votes lodged at the station than those for the House of Representatives.

    Steve Kennedy from the AEC says the votes were counted on the night but a transcription error meant they were not being included in Ms McGowan’s total.

    “On the McGowan box of first preference votes, a one was put there instead of a two, so it was 1,115 rather than 2,115,” he said.

    “In all the confusion in the early hours of Sunday, someone has written the incorrect number.
    “When that number’s been transcribed onto another sheet, that’s where the error’s occurred.

    “So the votes were always there, they were never lost, it was just an accounting error. That’s why we do this recounting and rechecking.”
    (ABC 12-9-2013)

  34. vivienne29

    Yes Sir – I realise now you are talking about more recent stuff – I was focused on the run up to the election. Apologies.

  35. Damo451

    Having just come back from a day long surf of you tube , i have some interesting people/books etc that may interest people here
    1. Chris Hedges – media correspondent
    2. Mox News – youtube , no not Fox ,Mox
    3. Capital in the 21st Century Thomas Piketty -book
    4, The Bubble and Beyond Micheal Hudson – book
    5. 2CR renegade economists -radio
    Given the views and leanings of the posters here i think they may find them interesting.

  36. Harquebus

    It doesn’t need independents to improve democracy in Australia. Politicians implementing the will of the people instead of the will of party donors will do it. Party politicians represent their party and their party’s interests. They do not represent their constituents even though they claim to.

    the Liberals’ scheme to remake Australia’s social compact. Alongside the Commission of Audit, the trade unions Royal Commission, the tax white paper, and the reform of Federation white paper, it forms part of their blueprint to unravel our social democracy.

  37. Peter Stanton

    It takes a special talent to motivate electors to take such an active role in democracy. Even within the coalition there a few with the talent to alienate that Sophie has displayed.

  38. Jansant

    Warrnambool is no where near Oxley, I think you mean Wangaratta 🙂

  39. Michael Taylor

    Thanks Jansant. You are correct. It has now been fixed.

  40. Sir ScotchMistery

    Hi Jansant, and thanks for picking that up, though it had been noted and commented on earlier.

    Funny what an old mind can forget…

    …now what was that again? Oh yeah.. thanks Michael. Appreciate you fixing my sub-verse-ive error.

  41. Jaia Brunt

    To quote Tom Atlee “Until We the People create a cohesive, wise collective voice, our interests will not be served and no public issue will be handled wisely.” My hope is that we can ‘share the stories’ and those organisations and people working to bring about change so that more of us can understand the dynamics that brought about the changes in Indi.

    Thanks Diane Teasdale for bringing awareness of some of the people and organisations involved.

  42. Lesley

    I believe you have confused the input of the young people with the original 12 founding members of Voice for Indi. The young “Indi Expats” we’re not those that began the kitchen table conversations or addressed the sitting incumbent. They were however instrumental in the genesis and progression of the McGowan campaign.

  43. Sir ScotchMistery

    As noted, Lesley, I was trying to remember as much as I could from the meting in Oxley.

    I appreciate others who were there updating/correcting. Please continue to do so.

    Eventually a cohesive plan may form in someone’s mind as to how to tackle the oligarchy.

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