The 2013 Federal election win was no accident, according to Independent Member for Indi, Cathy McGowan AO. Indi is now a model for other regional communities wanting greater acknowledgement and representation from their Federal Member of Parliament.
Independent Member for Indi, Cathy McGowan AO, said the 2016 Federal election campaign would be modelled on the successful grassroots movement that has put Indi on the map. “Indi matters, and for the first time in a long time, the seat is getting attention,” Ms McGowan said.
Winning the seat was the result of plenty of hard work and dedication from a team keen to introduce a new way of ‘doing politics’.
“Our campaign resonated with people who wanted change and believed there was a better way of moving Indi forward,” Ms McGowan said. “More than 700 volunteers came on board in 2013 and our target for the 2016 campaign is 1000 and beyond.”
Following the 2013 election win, a bus loaded with Orange supporters trekked up the Hume for Ms McGowan’s maiden speech and the impact was felt in Parliament. “The enthusiasm and optimism were incredible. To have an Indi presence in the People’s House was very powerful and made people sit up and take notice,” Ms McGowan said.
That presence in Parliament continued throughout Ms McGowan’s first term. The volunteer program, the likes of which no other parliamentarian has entertained, attracted 86 people. The Ven Dr John Davis retired last year as Vicar General of the Anglican Diocese of Wangaratta and took up the opportunity in Canberra to learn more about how Parliament operates, and the effectiveness of having an Independent Member as a representative.
“My whole working life has involved making connections, offering care and support, building community, reaching beyond self-interest, living faith. My volunteer week at the Canberra parliamentary office was one of the great experiences of my life,” Dr Davis said.
With three or four extra people volunteering each sitting week to assist – providing office support, welcoming visitors, taking on a huge range of back room things, attending breakfast briefings or dinner events – Dr Davis believes this output has greatly added to the work Ms McGowan can do on behalf of Indi.
“This enables a single independent to punch way above her weight,” he said.
Dr Davis said the experience also allowed him to see behind the curtain of public theatre and the adversarial and often ugly exchanges the media cover and portray.
“There is another whole world of discussion and working together in committees and less formal contacts for a better result where so much that is positive happens,” Dr Davis said. “The consultative grass-roots representation model of our Indi MP flourishes in this context, and will continue to do so whichever way the overall election goes.
Dr Davis said the volunteer program has not gone unnoticed, and is remarked on with amazement.
“There is huge goodwill for the member for Indi in Parliament. My own experience was to have the pleasure of sharing in this and attempting myself to explain and to show just how this ‘Indi Way’ can work,” he said.
With increased understanding and strong networks into Government volunteers are in a position to work closely with their community organisations and businesses to find solutions which have the potential to translate into effective policy.
The inclusiveness and community ownership has remained throughout Ms McGowan’s first term. The 2016 campaign team has created the Keep the Seat Orange theme, with orange seats popping up across the electorate. This is just one of the myriad creative ideas to get orange, now synonymous with the McGowan brand, splashed across the North East. The Indi Makers meet every Wednesday to produce Orange paraphernalia to be sold at events and fundraisers. Social media ticks over with a constant stream of inventive ways to spread the Indi message.
Orange Campaign Hubs have been established in Wangaratta, Wodonga, Benalla, Mansfield, Kinglake and Yea, increasing the number of outlets for locals across Indi to connect with the campaign. Campaign Hub co-ordinator and 2016 Wangaratta Citizen of the Year, Anne Shaw, said the volunteer base contained a broad range of people who feel they have been given a voice and want to contribute.
“Everyone is welcome. We cater for everyone’s skills and people always have a role they can play,” Ms Shaw said. “We also promote the political process, and explain how true representation works; it’s as much about education and understanding our democracy and the need for people to be involved for it to work effectively.”
Putting Indi First is more than a mantra and it’s come as no surprise the grassroots campaign has struck a chord with disillusioned voters in Indi. Ms McGowan is confident the electorate embraces the ‘Indi Way’ and has seen the results. The inaugural Indi Summit and subsequent Report involved more than 2000 people across the electorate. This was unprecedented community consultation and has led to a number of actions to help grow the electorate.
Ms McGowan said people were optimistic about the future and ideas raised at the Summit were realistic and achievable. These included taking the Totally Renewable Yackandandah model and electorate-wide, and applying Australian Centre for Rural Entrepreneurship youth entrepreneur programs across Indi.
“These are solution-based ideas that can be instituted at the community level and will have positive benefits for the future,” Ms McGowan said.
So while the national spotlight might be on political personalities, it’s the communities in Indi ensuring the future is bright.
“People feel engaged and part of the process. Many volunteers and supporters say they are interested in politics for the first time, and disillusioned with the major parties. They want politics to be carried out in a respectful and positive manner, with policy the focus rather than personality,” she said. “The voice of communities matter and people want to be heard. People want their community to be a prosperous, thriving one with opportunities for all, and if you take the time and ask in a respectful way, they will tell you about what’s needed for this to occur.”