A grassroots campaign spurred by dissatisfaction
In 2012 in the Federal seat of Indi in north-eastern Victoria, a group of voters who were unhappy with the performance of the then MP, the Liberal’s Sophie Mirabella, decided to consult their fellow constituents through ‘kitchen able conversations’ to see what they felt and what kind of representation they expected.
Over 400 people participated in these conversations and a report of their comments was compiled and distributed to Sophie Mirabella and others. She was clearly not interested in what these constituents had to say, and so they decided to put up their own community-endorsed independent candidate. Some 600 constituents, led by the group Voice for Indi (later Voices for Indi), then campaigned for that candidate, Cathy McGowan, and she won the seat at the 2013 Election. She won again in 2016, and, when she retired before the 2019 Election, she was succeeded by another community-endorsed candidate, Helen Haines, who won the seat at that election, the first time in Australia’s history that one independent had succeeded another.
So, after 82 years of representation by conservative parties, the seat has been won and held by two independents over three elections. But these wins and the active community engagement that made this possible are only half the story. The other half is the way the community campaigned, led by Voices for Indi (V4i). Participants listened carefully to what people wanted from politics and their MP. They signed ‘values statements’ committing themselves to norms of respect, trust, courage, integrity, positivity and inclusivity. They were asked to be ‘their best selves’ and to refrain from negative and personal politics, and instead to ‘engage in positive conversations about possibilities and potential’. What’s more, campaigning in Indi incorporated a lot of fun, local culture and social activity, which is important if you want to engage and hold onto participants.
And, once elected, Cathy McGowan and Helen Haines have embodied in their actions the values behind V4i’s campaigning. They have been voices for integrity and constructive change in parliament. They have communicated with and engaged the involvement of their constituents in many ways. They have focused on the needs and aspirations of these constituents and not on bagging other politicians and their parties.