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Helen Haines: Could progressive Independents be the way of the future?

Australians want and need to be represented in Canberra by someone who understands their values and concerns, and will fight for these. It’s all too often that Australians are denied any choice because of the dominant two-party system. In the two-party system the voice of their elected representative is that of their party and often poorly reflects the electorate’s views. However, in some areas often known for their conservatism they come to elect progressive candidates. Such a person is Dr Helen Haines; as was her predecessor Ms Kathy McGowan.

Dr Haines did not come from the usual political background but grew up on a dairy farm near Colac, Victoria, trained as a nurse and midwife later moving to NE Victoria. Dr Haines subsequently completed a Bachelor’s Degree at Deakin University and holds a Master’s Degree in Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of NSW. She also has a PhD in Medical Science.

In 2019, Dr Haines decided to stand for election

“… because I believe our communities need real representation on what matters to us: education, healthcare, getting rid of corruption in politics, harnessing clean energy for Australia’s future, and building jobs and prosperity.”

As an independent member of Parliament representing a rural and regional electorate such as Indi, Dr Haines has embraced what people are telling her and has encouraged this communication. As she expresses it, her experiences are those of the people of her electorate. On being asked which issues she believes are the most important, Dr Haines stated:

One of the most common enquiries I get in this office are mobile phone and internet issues – the NBN.

… having reliable connectivity to the internet is more than a fundamental need, it is absolutely crucial. We know that in order to undertake business, education and health care you need connection to the internet, and by not having a connection to the internet you are disadvantaged.”

Dr Haines explained that a key job of a representative of an electorate is to make sure that the people represented are not disadvantaged and they have all the needs that are fundamental to living a high quality, safe and enjoyable healthy life. Dr Haines believes that the Covid Crisis has made it even clearer that unless you have full connectivity you can’t access all those things in a way you should be able to.

EFTPOS machines go down. People can’t make business transactions, Business people get frustrated. As the member of Parliament my job is to make sure the people I look after have the access that they need, and right now many of them do not. I sit on the NBN Parliamentary Committee and I deliberately joined that committee as I knew that it’s a big challenge to us.

Dr Haines also stated that she believes that if as a representative and you are working closely with the people you serve, then your actions in Parliament will reflect more accurately the needs of your electorate.

One of the key things is to use all the parliamentary tools that are there. I can give speeches, I can pass motions in the House, I can introduce private member’s bills, I can ask questions in Question Time and I can use parliamentary committees … this is good democracy … to make sure that the people I represent – that those issues make it all the way through to the federal government. That’s what I do. Everyday that I’m in Parliament, and my job when not in parliament is to be out there talking to people and hearing directly what their issues are

On the issue of Climate Change and Climate Action Dr Haines pointed out that:

We are the in the middle of a renewal energy boom so why the heck aren’t we benefitting from it. All big renewal energy projects are in regional Australia but where’s the money going? The money’s going offshore. I want to see the money going into the pockets of regional communities. I want to see them having lower power prices and having the capacity to make money from this.

Dr Haines is of the opinion that Australia has “… the greatest capacity in the world to generate renewable energy.”

I look at this from the perspective of young Australians probably more than anyone. The opportunities for them to truly benefit from a renewal energy boom through skills and opportunity. They’re missing out.

I hear this loud and clear from my electorate. People are sick of the politics, they’re sick of so-called leaders just sticking in their corners. We need to come together on this issue.

Irrespective of how you see the world we are led by business people [who are essentially] putting aside their moral obligations to do something that is compelling science, and from an economic perspective we are getting so left behind on this and the opportunities that are missing now I think is negligent of the government.

Dr Haines believes that regional communities have the ability to harness the potential for renewable energy and in May this year launched a renewable energy plan for regional Australia, inviting public consultation about how the Federal Government can support “community energy” in regional Australia. “From Wodonga and Wangaratta to Euroa and Alexandra, these groups are working on building rooftop solar, wind turbines, batteries and pumped hydro to generate their own cheap, clean and local electricity,” Dr Haines said.

Australians have the smarts and the grit to tackle climate change – we just need the politics to catch up. (


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  1. RosemaryJ36

    Could progressive Independents be the way of the future?
    We need intelligent design, not hardline party party bias!

  2. Terence Mills

    Independents usually have to work a lot harder than the party hacks : they have to actually read the legislation they are being asked to vote on unlike the Nationals, for example, who rarely do anything constructive and merely vote for whatever the Liberals put up.

    Progressive independents, particularly in the senate are the way to go in my view.

  3. Jennifer A Meyer-Smith

    Yes ofcourse, Michael.

    Then it will be crystal clear that only #TheALLiance will do

  4. Roswell

    Helen Haines is an outstanding politician. Her electorate of Indi adjoins mine: Farrer, just across the river. We’re lumbered with Sussan Ley.

    I recently read that Helen Haines has secured fibre-to-the-home NBN for over 20,000 households in Wodonga and Albury.

    Sussan Ley, whose office is in Albury, had nothing to do with it.

    Helen Haines is working for all Australians. There aren’t too many politicians who can claim to be doing that.

  5. Andrew James Smith

    Not certain, especially when there are elements of Australia’s unbalanced political environment or ‘architecture’ that precludes good representative democracy through parliament.

    The LNP are ‘owned’ by various corporate interests, we have consolidated media oligopoly singing from the same song sheet, the policy influence of Koch linked think tanks and ageing electorates; these factors make any representation whether independent, Green or Labor challenging.

  6. Keith

    I certainly hope Independents will get greater consideration in the future. I used to obtain emails from Cathy McGowan, Helen’s predecessor, and have had material from Helen. I also receive emails from Zali Steggall, what they all have in common is a sense of being involved with their communities. Lately, have had an email from the local Liberal Federal member, very aggressive in comparison. My response back was hopefully seen to be very confronting to him. I just see our Liberal member as being a rubber stamp, his email was asking about my views on GetUp and demonstrating at work sites. My response had been about the lack of consideration by the LNP towards young people in relation to climate change. I suggested Get Up and XR are fulfilling a need through the lack of attention the LNP are taking on climate change. I’m hoping that at the next election that we see more progressive Independents are elected along with progressive small parties, and a coalition is formed with Labor. The best government we have had within the last decade was the Gillard government which was in coalition with Independents and Greens. The Federal LNP have been useless since Abbott was elected and I’m coming to the conclusion that our current “government” is worse than we experienced after Abbott was elected. They appear to have policy on on photo ops, though nothing substantive.

  7. margcal

    Absolutely, no question. I’ve been advocating this for a long time.

    As Terence Mills says: “Independents usually have to work a lot harder than the party hacks.”
    And for that reason I wonder how feasible an independent is, in urban areas with much larger populations, because part of the “working harder” is making the personal contacts that can turn voters around.

    What I like about Independents is that they usually haven’t been party hacks. They haven’t necessarily come from law or business school or, thank god, the IPA. They usually bring with them some life experience and concrete issues that they want to address to make the world a better place. They are “not” aiming to be PM – a huge advantage for voters.

    They need to talk to other MPs/Senators and practise the art of compromise to achieve a good outcome, difficult to achieve a profitable one for themselves or mates.

    And lots more advantages to having them in parliament …..

  8. Carol Taylor

    There are a lot of conservative areas of Australia who will never vote Labor or Green but it seems will vote for a progressive Independent. When you look at the calibre of some candidates put forward by Lib, Labor, Nats and indeed the Greens, then one does despair of the future of Australian politics. It seems that it doesn’t matter if you post sexist, racist, abusive posts on social media as long as you’re part of The Team. Independents are not part of the team but are old style, wanting to represent their communities and in Helen Haines’ case, having progressive ideas on just about everything. And not just ideas, but doing it.

  9. Jennifer A Meyer-Smith

    If Australian politics could be re-arranged to emulate Borgen, the Danish series on SBS, Helen Haines would be PM.

  10. New England Cocky

    During the early noughties in New England we had an INDEPENDENT revelation when Tony Windsor, Independent MP for Tamworth moved to feral politics on a 62.5% first preference swing AGAINST the Nazional$.

    Meanwhile, in NSW Richard Torbay Independent MP for Northern Tablelands began a revelation that put a total of SEVEN (7) Independents into Parliament including Northern Beaches in Sydney.

    Both Windsor and Torbay survived the ire of the self-entitled borne-to-rule squattocracy because they got things done. The too early retirement of Tony Windsor in 2013 allowed the Nazional$ to regain New England and demonstrate why Bruce Scott delayed his retirement from Maranoa to protect the electorate, with Littleproud taking the Maranoa pre-selection & 2013 election while Barnyard Joke was thrust into New England to disgrace himself with impunity.

    Windsor always stated that ”the world is run by those who turn up” and held regular town meetings to discuss political matters. He was regularly out & about in the electorate and always up for a chat.
    This strategy was a stark contrast to the ”see you in the week before the election” strategy preferred by successive Nazional$ aspirants.

    The success of Independents in Parliament is governed by the ability to control ”political donations” aka ”political bribes” to political parties. This requires IMMEDIATE public posting of donations to political parties listing the natural person donor and their corporate or industry affiliations. Control the flow of corporate money into conservative parties and you control those parties.

    Consider the current matter of illegal irrigation pumping of MDB water by ”rogue” broad acre farmers. It is alleged that a small about $10,000 donation to the Nazional$ achieves unlimited unmetered pumping of MDB water in the N MDB that is destroying both the Darling Barka River flow and adjacent agricultural enterprises in the S MDB.

  11. wam

    For more than twenty years I observed the worth of independents in local government and the beginning of party(the loonies) influence where positions were decided outside the meeting and their vote uninfluenced by debate.
    The value of independents is the debate is real and the decisions are influenced by the debate.
    However the influence of the employee experts is also real and available to all without being filtered through a minister.
    If the federal public service(federal police??) was politics free the parliament may be able to be inclusive of independent representation that is effective as in 2010 but bandt’s blackmail showed the ugly side of hung parliament’s fragility and the recent political interference in the public sector is not conducive to independents progressive or katter.

    Dr Mark Rodrigues and Dr Scott Brenton
    Politics and Public Administration Section
    21 September 2010

  12. Hotspringer

    If we cannot get away from this un”representative democracy”, then progressive independents are our best chance.

  13. Caz

    Independents have the happy knack of joining one of the parties after being elected. If an Independent wants to change allegiance they should be compelled to resign and stand again. The same goes for all members of Parliament who swap sides.

  14. LambsFry Simplex.

    Similar to Carol Taylor, said elsewhere, Australia has had a lot to thank various independents over the last generation (Colston excluded).

  15. New England Cocky

    @Caz: Yep!! THAT was the downfall of Richard Torbay (Independent) NSW MP for Northern Tablelands> After a stellar career representing the electorate and being appointed Speaker by Morris Iemma (Labor) the Obeid Labor government was tossed out, and Torbay lost the Speaker job despite renovating the position into the 21st century.

    Enter the Nazional$ unelected political hacks who control pre-selection with an offer for Torbay to become at least Deputy Premier because there was, and remains, a dearth of suitable talent in the Nazional$ ranks.

    The idea was circulated within the electorate to almost unanimous rejection, but still ego bettered reality and Torbay abandoned the electorate to join the Nazional$.

    Within a matter of weeks the Nazional$ strategy was clear – ICAC came calling looking for evidence to link Torbay with Obeid, Torbay resigned from ALL his public positions including Chancellor of UNE and took a long overseas holiday while the investigation was occurring.

    At the bye-election former Gunnedah Mayor Holla4A Marshall was parachuted in because there was no local interest from the local Nazional$ supporters and the voters have since noted the return of the scheming strategies in favour of Nazional$ ”political donations” aka ”political bribes”.

    Marshall supported by Giovanni Porlbarrelo and NSW Ministers has done a dirty water deal to use Armidale drinking water in Malpas Dam to grow export tomatoes for a Canadian agri-investment corporation with water charges heavily discounted compared to ratepayers.

  16. B Sullivan

    The problem really is that there are more non-progressive leaning electorates than there are progressive electorates that progressive independents might win. This is in spite of AEC figures that reveal that overall there is more democratic support for progressive candidates than conservative candidates. The consequence is that the democratic will of all Australian voters is never fairly reflected by the composition of the MPs elected to parliament. Australian voters do not get the government they deserve.

    Those Independents who do succeed in getting elected to parliament are almost always conservatives with very few exceptions. They may have some issues with the Coalition but when it comes to the crunch the Coalition can invariably count upon their support.

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