Local, Independant and Effective

Getting results the Indi Way

Posted May 04, 2017


Ms McGOWAN (Indi) (11:23): I am pleased to make my contribution to the address-in-reply and the debate on the Governor-General's speech. In December 2013, when I delivered my first speech in parliament, I said:

The people of Indi have a vision for a community where people feel they belong and have a sense of purpose, where people pull together and help each other, where diversity, acceptance and tolerance are valued; a community that has quality services, infrastructure, education, jobs and health and opportunities for the next generation.

In this speech today in parliament I want to talk about some of the work we have done since that first speech was made, the agenda for this term of parliament and the call to action to the people of Indi to take the Indi way of working and move it on to the next stages.

I would particularly like to begin by acknowledging and recognising the work of my community. As an Independent member of parliament, the community plays an integral role in ensuring that I act as an effective local member. My community understands the issues, and I need to make sure that I stay connected to my community so that I understand the issues. The Indi way, as we call it, started with the involvement and enthusiasm of country young people, the young people in my community, and it continued with a commitment to training, support and empowerment of volunteers. We took the enthusiasm and the energy and together we moulded it and gave direction to that want to make the world a better place. And we encouraged, with all our volunteers, a commitment to values, to be respectful, to be our best selves, to acknowledge difference and to take responsibility for ourselves and our actions. Ultimately, this model builds on the understanding that our democracy is important to us. But democracy means everybody has the chance to have their voices heard, to engage in political action and to actually work for the change that they want to see. In north-east Victoria we value democracy, we value participation and we want to make sure it is continued.

Part of my role as a member of parliament is the facilitation and the development of anybody who is interested in learning about politics. There are a whole lot of ways that we do that. We have volunteers who come to Canberra. We have learning and training programs through the office. I go out to communities. I speak to schools. Schools come to Canberra. We have leadership development programs. There are a myriad of ways of explaining to people that, as the representative, it is my job to take the ideas of the community to Canberra and, not being a member of a party, I do not rely on my party for the ideas; I actually rely on my community. We call this the Indi way.

Initially, we were driven by a sense of dissatisfaction and disillusionment. I know it is common right across Australia that people are sick of the way politics works. They do not trust that things are going the way they should. That certainly was the feeling in Indi, but we did not fall into that trap. We did not go down that negative path. We took those feelings of disconnect and dissatisfaction and asked, 'What can we do with it? How can we get a member of parliament who is actually going to have our vision and will represent us but be the representative and not necessarily the power base that perhaps you get from parties?'

In Indi we have a saying that the future is made or determined by those who turn up. Not only did young people turn up to run the campaign and not only do many people now turn up to be part of the political activity of the electorate, but in this speech today I want to make a call out to those who stood up in the 2016 election and did the work, did the hours, did the miles, did those numerous meetings and gave the intellectual power that they had to do the planning for the election and help with the community development side of it. We had over 700 signed-up volunteers, all of whom had signed on to the value statement and contributed to the election. But it was led by this amazing team of wonderful people: Alana Johnson, Anne Shaw, Chris Hazell, Denis Ginnivan, Jacqui Hawkins, John Davis, Judy Brewer, Karen Nankervis, Michelle Dunscombe, Nick Haines, Phil Haines, Roberta Baker, Roland Wahlquist, Ross Kearney, Rowan O'Hagan, Ruth McGowan, Susan Benedyka, Tammy Atkins, Tony Lane, Cam Klose, Julie De Hennin, Trish Curtis, Mark and Jill Howard, Angela Killingsworth and Jane Taylor. They were the core group, but it is always dangerous when you name some people, because it was also everybody else who made the difference.

The election in northeast Victoria was cold and wet and rainy and long, and many, many volunteers stood for hours in the very miserable cold weather not only doing how-to-vote cards but also having conversations with people, engaging them and talking about how other people could get involved—a deep and heartfelt thankyou for that work. I know you are going nowhere, that you are staying involved and that you will continually stay in touch with me and make sure that I represent our interests in this parliament.

But Indi will only thrive as more organisations, groups, communities and people gain the skills and confidence to act on their own solutions, make their own plans and take effective action to get results. There is absolutely no point coming and seeing me, as a member of parliament, and describing a problem. It is of interest, but it does not get the answer we need. All too often people come to me with a problem and say, 'Cathy, can you do something about it? Can you go to the minister?' What we have come to understand is, sure, that is an action, but, if you give a country problem to a city minister, they will give you a city answer. You get a much better response if you bring together known ways of working and give the minister a solution to the problem—that is, if you say: here is the problem, here is what needs to be done, here we are as a community and here is how we can work together. That is what we have been doing in Indi. I was so pleased last week to be able to bring representatives of the dairy industry to parliament. People from the dairy industry came up. They are going through a really tough time, but they had sat down, defined the problem and worked out answers to what needed to be done, and they came to Canberra. We had a very constructive day meeting the Prime Minister, the Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development and the Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, talking about these issues and setting up partnerships that we know we can move together, and I was really pleased to do that.

Also last week, the Alpine Valleys Community Leadership Program came to Canberra. It is another example of a community group learning about leadership—coming up here, spending the day and actually getting a hold on how parliament works and how they can advance it. I just made a little error there—it was Alpine Valleys who met the Prime Minister. It was not the dairy group; they were busy doing other things. When the Alpine Valleys Leadership group spoke to the Prime Minister they talked to him about the need for leadership training and empowering communities so that people who put up their hand to be president, secretary or treasurer of a group can not only learn how to do those jobs but learn how to network and engage with their community, and also with parliament.

I was so pleased, because the Prime Minister said he was really interested in this idea of community leadership and how we could get it working nationally. I know in New South Wales it is not so popular, but in Victoria we have 10 geographically based community leadership programs. We get some money out of the Victorian government, all of us put in kind in, and every year we graduate about 30 community leaders, who then go back and work in their community in a networked way. The good thing about them coming to Canberra is that they get to understand how parliament works so they can then take on their own issues and start working in the system. These delegates are a really good example of how effective people can be in their own communities.

Together with that work, the thing we did in Indi in 2015 which was so strong was a series of kitchen table conversations. Something like 400 or 500 people turned up around kitchen tables to talk about their issues. We then pulled that together to have the Indi Summit, of which we have a report. The Indi Summit said, 'These are the issues that we care about in our electorate and we are going to commit to doing things about these issues.' Of course, among those there are some issues that I have a particular interest in and will work on, namely renewable energy and employment for young people. The arts are really big in Indi, so how do we develop and grow the arts? How do we get a stronger voice for young people? How do we make sure our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are represented? They are some of the topics that we are now working really closely on with our community.

What I am really pleased about is that we have set the model in place. We have now had four years of it working and it shows that community groups are interested and able to do things about their own problems. They can then come and work together with their political representatives. Then, with access to government and opposition, and to ministers, we can do the Canberra work to get rid of the roadblocks that are stopping change, to get the incentives that we need. Many of them are there; we need to bring them back into the community. I am really pleased that that model is doing so well.

In my next three years of being the member for Indi, I want to talk to government about how we can do a much stronger job on policy development, particularly rural and regional policy development, that builds strong partnerships with the people on the ground, the grassroots groups who know exactly what is going on. Sometimes they might not have the exact answer, but together they can work to solve things. Too often in government we work backwards. We say, 'What happened?' and we spend our time catching up. I spoke in parliament yesterday about the problems we have with our train line, and all I could say is that we are spending huge amounts of time and energy trying to fix a problem that should not have been there in the first place. We are doing catch-up. I see the member for Corangamite is here in the House, and I know the enormous problems she has with mobile phone delivery, with roads, with transport. We are all playing catch-up. The truth of the matter is—

Ms Henderson: We have made some great achievements though, all the same.

Ms McGOWAN: Of course, and similar to me. We are making huge progress.

Ms Henderson: Huge progress.

Ms McGOWAN: We are, but we would much rather not be doing it. We would much rather be putting all that skill into designing the future for our communities. We would much rather take those skills that we have, the programs that we have and the community connections we have and go, 'Here's how we can actually do what the Prime Minister wants to do, which is to use the innovation and creativity that we know our communities have.'

I am not for one moment saying that we are not having a great effect. Clearly that is why we got re-elected—because we are able to deliver for our communities. But I am really looking forward to not having to do all that repair work. I am looking forward to being part of a parliament that actually works with communities, that looks at a 20-year plan and says, 'Here's how our rural and regional communities are going to take their place as major contributors to the future of Australia.' In that particular area, I have been working with the Minister for Regional Development, Senator Fiona Nash, on a regional policy for Australia. I am optimistic that that minister is going to have some good news for us shortly. I have been working with the Prime Minister on how that might work out well.

One of the really important things about Canberra and policy that we have noticed is that government sometimes tends to make 'policy by grants', as we call it. There is no-one in rural Australia who does not want a grant. There are many of us who have spent years and years applying for grants, jumping through hoops—and maybe being successful—but it does not actually do what we need to do, which is create the long-term longitudinal space where we can grow the country. We need policy to do that. We need a good white paper that comes out. Maybe we need another summit that brings people together and builds engagement. We need a process where government has a big picture for Australia—so states, local government and our community groups all work together on it—and there is adequate funding in the system.

I am really appreciative that the government has announced the Regional Ministerial Taskforce. That is a huge step in this direction. When I asked the Prime Minister a question in question time, he responded to that with a list of grants—all this grant money that the government is giving out. I acknowledge the grants—and I know that we do well in Indi with our grants—but it does not address the big problem that we have to talk about, which is investment in policy and programs that are going to be there for the long term and that will give the opportunity for the government to leave a legacy in our community. It is a cohesive approach to regional policy, an opportunity to work together, to bring communities together, to have that white paper, to have a summit and to build the coalitions of engagement that we know we need.

John Anderson, when he was Deputy Prime Minister and responsible for regional development, used the technique of a national summit to great advantage. He would bring communities together and he would introduce them to each other so that some of the more prosperous communities in Victoria could meet with communities in other places that perhaps were not doing so well. He created a national understanding about issues. Organisations would then go and work together—for example, Australian Women In Agriculture. We were a national organisation. We got to meet and greet and work together and then create a national project with John Anderson and the department to do some fantastic work. I know there are many, many opportunities for that. For me, a rural policy needs to be enduring, bipartisan and enjoy community support. It needs to be robust and meaningful. If the government could do that, could get the process right as well as the outcome, it would be such a legacy—a legacy which would stay with us for a very long time.

In talking about the role here in Canberra in doing that, I would now like to focus a few of my comments on how regional politicians have an important role to play here. I speak to my colleagues in the House today and acknowledge their commitment to rural and regional Australia. I know that we all do good work individually, but the idea of all the regional politicians collectively working together on the little slice that we have would be really welcome. When I was on the agricultural standing committee and we did a review into agricultural research, the standing committee came to northeast Victoria and met with the researchers and farmers. We had some really productive results from that. If we cannot get the policy right, cannot get the government to agree to a white paper or cannot get the government to have a national summit, I call on the government to ask one of its standing committees to do a review of the grants programs and how they work in regional Australia—and then to make some recommendations. If we are going to go that way, how do we make it better? How do we make it needs based?

Finally, I would like to talk briefly about some of the exciting work that is happening in my electorate and the pride that I have in the work that the community is doing. I spoke about the dairy industry and the great work they are doing, and I spoke about the leadership program and the work they are doing. Earlier this week, I had an opportunity to talk about the youth work that is happening. Next week we have a youth policy camp, where local governments right across the electorate are getting young people together. They did one of these camps last year, and a significant number of young people stood for local government, as a result of learning how to, in a bipartisan and non-political way. So we now have a significant number of young people in our country areas who are on our local councils. They will be there for the long term and learn their way. That has been a wonderful outcome.

In the area of renewable energy, almost every single town in my electorate has a community based group looking at renewable energy. I have been absolutely delighted to talk to the Prime Minister about the importance of community energy systems. I will be talking to the Minister for the Environment and Energy later on today about how we need a national approach to supporting community energy systems. There are over 60 communities already in Australia developing their own community based energy systems, and they are going to go from strength to strength. The wonderful thing that I see happening is that in little towns like Yackandandah, for example, the community gets together and actually learns about electricity rather than just being consumers. Two hundred or 300 people are turning up to public meetings. They are understanding about the poles and wires companies and the political debate we are having, and they are really inputting into that.

With that goes some other really exciting things. I was in Yackandandah on the weekend for the Yackandandah Folk Festival. I had the really lovely experience of standing at the crossroads in Yackandandah where there was a big tent set up. I think it was called 'waste watch'. It was the Yackandandah environment group. There were 5,000 or 6,000 people at this festival, and on the crossroads they had a tent and all of the wheelie bins came to this one spot. They had a team of volunteers—I think close to 20 working on shifts—going through all of the rubbish, in full view of everybody, sorting all of the rubbish into disposables and recyclables and making sure that they did not do waste filling.

That was a noble thing, but the really important thing that happened to me while I was there watching was that I had this overwhelming sense of being taught to be a much more responsible person regarding waste. I could see the accumulation of waste and I could see these really good community people separating it all out with gloves and protective clothing on. But it was the public education of it such as, 'We don't want to use plastic water bottles and disposable cups.' I had such an education about what not to do because of what the community did. What I am trying to say about the Indi way is that the community take responsibility and do their own work and, in the process, they educate us, and then we build up a whole community of people who have responsibility.

So, back to the beginning: I got elected because people were disillusioned and disenfranchised. Four years later, I am so proud to say I am representing an electorate that is no longer that way. It is rapidly becoming engaged and it is better understanding the politics and how to make a difference to get the change that the member for Corangamite and I know we need. I am going to finish with a quote that I used in my first speech:

The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating; the paths to it are not found, but made, and the making of these pathways changes both the maker and the destination.

We are showing that we are changing the destination.

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