Local, Independant and Effective

Rural Press Club Speech 2014

Posted February 25, 2014


What happened in Indi?
Basically I think we were lucky: we were in the right place at the right time with the right people. And as the Border Mail reported early in the campaign, we encountered “a perfect storm of events and preferences”...

There are three main parts of this talk:

I’d like to begin with reflections on the campaign and the election result, and thoughts on being an independent in this 44th Parliament; secondly, to share some  personal reflections and observations about how I will approach the job; and finally, finish with discussion of the key issues what you can expect in the next three years.

What happened in Indi?

Basically I think we were lucky: we were in the right place at the right time with the right people.

And as the Border Mail reported early in the campaign, we encountered “a perfect storm of events and preferences” and this included the following.

The timing:– high levels of dissatisfaction in the electorate; disillusionment with politics and politicians.  And many people in Indi felt this dissatisfaction personally. There was a general feeling — well-reported in most of the media that it was time for labor to go and a sense that the coalition would win — the electorate was ripe for a protest vote.

Right place: Indi was indeed ready for change—the electorate had seen rapid population growth in Wodonga and surrounds; the community in Wangaratta had been flexing its muscles over the past 2 years and down south, ‘swinging’ Murrindindi had been added to the electorate leaving McEwan behind.

Right People: a group of enthusiastic young people, a mob of keen volunteers, and a leadership team that had been engaging with the community on development issues for over 15 years. We were networked, we were focused and we had a shared cause.


I think Margaret Mead summed it up perfectly: “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world.. indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

And now having won the seat – what does it all mean?

Let me start with what this Indi election result means for rural and regional Australia. There’s at least one obvious lesson: that electorates—even safe electorates with 9% margins —can change. Beware of taking voters for granted. And beware of branding rural and regional votes as “rusted on” or “dyed in the wool” or dare I say it, “conservative”.

What does this election result mean for Australia? We’ll all be able to answer this question better in hindsight,  but the most obvious thing I have noticed, is that it has brought together five rather unusual people on the cross benches – when I look at “us” I see that together we cover off on the major political perspectives – Bob Katter –conservative, rural agrarian; Clive Palmer – liberal big business; me – centre regional, urbane; Andrew Wilkie a bit more left than me, but still middle of the road, urban, progressive and to the left of all of us – Adam Bandt.

The other thing I have noticed is that during Question Time, when one of us asks a question (on a roster system – we get one question a day – usually the 5th or 6th question) there’s genuine interest from all parties in both the question and the answer – there are no Dorothy Dixers from our seats.  That’s rare in Question time – actually listening to the answer!

While we have different perspectives I am hopeful there will be room to work together. For instance I am very interested in talking to Clive about reform of the system used to make and count votes—I suspect we both have in common a want to see the introduction of electronic voting and the doing away of the manual counting – pencils and paper and the ability for the system to lose the odd 1000 votes here or there.

The Issues – Sadly there is nothing new here: you—the media covering rural Victoria—and we who live there, know them only too well and the Indi campaign bought them into sharp relief:

-          Effective and efficient public transport system and in Indi, the problems we have with the train between Melbourne — well Seymour — and Wodonga cause great community concern.

-          With a bit of luck and good weather the Australia Rail Track Corporation will have fixed up the mud holes – soon – leaving us to convince the Victorian Government that we need better trains — faster trains — and that if Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo, Traralgon, Ararat and Echuca can have Vlocity trains – then why not Wodonga, Wangaratta and Benalla?  (Who said anything about safe seats?)

-          Telecommunications is a perennial issue. Mobile phone black spots and the lack of reliable affordable access to high speed broadband – hopefully these are rectified before my nieces and nephews are grandparents.

-          Service delivery – that’s effective delivery of education – all sorts, health services – all sorts, housing – all sorts….not only to the large regional centres and also our smaller town.  One only needs to look at the shocking statistic that only 57% of our 20 – 24 year olds have completed year 12 compared to 78% in Melbourne.

Then there’s the issue of the future of our communities – the vision thing

-          What sorts of jobs and where? Who does the planning and delivery

-          How to look after and protect the environment?  I am talking climate change here – and agriculture, and tourism and also an electorate with over 50 % of the water that falls in the Murray Darling Basin – where’s the plan?

-          And how we look after people – the young people, the old people, the families, the people with special needs - I call it the care factor and I know that it makes all the difference to our quality of life – to people’s ability to live in rural and regional Victoria and Australia. People want to, in fact need to, feel they belong – that someone cares for them. How do we make that happen now, and as our population ages, into the future?

In Indi manufacturing and agriculture are major employers.  Our seven main river valleys (Gouburn, Broken, King, Ovens, Kiewa, Mitta and Murray) are rich in agriculture.  Indi’s regional towns: Benalla, Wangaratta and Wodonga are important manufacturing centres – Indi is home to iconic brands- names such as Murray Goulburn, Uncle Toby’s, Visy, Milawa Cheese, Brown Bros, but what’s the future we could all ask? The future for Australian’s manufacturing industry and more particularly of our food processing sector. Now there’s an issue – does anyone have a plan – if not now - when?

So what to do – what’s going to be my approach to being the MP for Indi and Victorian’s first community independent MP?

To answer this question I would like to talk a little about some of the influences in my life which I hope will help explain how I see my role.

One of the themes that has been constant through my life is that of effective rural community development – what is it and how to do it?

Community mattered in our family. Civic engagement was seen to be important – leave the world a better place, know that “things just don’t happen, Cathy, you have got to get in there and do something!”

People make things happen. Teams of people make lots of things happen. That subtle message of taking responsibility, do your duty, be of service and know what you are on about. Have a destination/vision.

The discussions begun around the family table, continued into my adult life and the solutions to the questions of rural community development; what made some communities good to live in and others not so?  This became a life-long search – my vocation, as it turned out.

As a researcher in the office of Ewen Cameron in the early 1980s, the MP for Indi, who, by the way also won the seat on back of Labor preferences; as a rural affairs advisor in the Dept of Ag and Rural Affairs during the Cain years, as a small business operator planning rural services, studying for my master’s degree in Ag and Rural Development at USW at Hawkesbury in the mid-1990s and then teaching on the staff for seven years. Throughout these various roles, I learnt a lot.

A pivotal time in exploring these questions and finding useful answers came through being a participant in the Australian Rural Leadership Program.

I met other people interested in the same questions — including people working in government whose job it was to ‘do’ rural development — many a long night was spent debating ‘better’ ways of supporting rural communities. 

The story is too long to tell but in short, I ‘got leadership. I could see that through formal leadership programs, individuals could get skills, could learn how to engage, network, connect,  as well as understand the systems, what they were and how they operated and most importantly, how to use them. 

USW and the ARLP were about action, putting the learning into practice. The practical place where I got to develop my leadership skills was through Australian Women in Agriculture, where I rose up through the ranks from secretary to eventually VP and President.

AWiA is and was a fantastic organization. It brings together women from all over Australia who had a passion for agriculture, for food production, for families and for our communities — we all ‘get’ communities.  It was a perfect place for practicing leadership skills. We ran conferences, we lobbied Governments, we advocated, networked internationally, we did research, we worked with Government programs such as the Rural Women’s Networks and funding programs such as the Commonwealth’s Rural Women’s Access Grants, we learnt how the system works.

And I became active in local and community leadership programs: Alpine Valleys Community Leadership Program (AVCLP) Fairley, Lodden Campaspe. Through my business, I ran leadership programs in the dairy, horticulture, sugar, wool industries and extending these programs overseas to Ireland and PNG. At the community level we ran leadership programs for young people, for multi-cultural groups, for communities after the fires.

We became involved in government-led consultations about the future. For instance the Hume Regional Strategy, we organized trips to Canberra and Melbourne teaching people how the system worked and exposing them to politicians, parliament, bureaucracy and the press gallery. We ran leadership conferences; we networked, supported and encouraged each other to be courageous to stand up, to be rural leaders.

And my definition of community leadership: ‘working with others to take action to improve your community’.

With this background you will see the logic of my decision to say “Yes”, when the young people went looking for someone to stand in Indi before the 2013 election.

So what can the people of Indi expect of me as an MP? 

Three main areas of work:

-          At the community level handling constituent enquires, doing our best to help people get results through the maze of Commonwealth bureaucracy (we are getting on average 50 enquiries a day)

-          To work in partnerships (local government, state government, community groups and business) to advance the major infra structural and service issues. We have done the work, we know what to do, we have the blue print ‘The Hume Region Strategy’.

-          To represent the interests of the people of Indi in Canberra, to give Voice to our issues and to work with community groups so they can find and use their own voices.

And the legacy, the opportunity, in the next three years?

I respect what my colleagues Clive Palmer and Bob Katter are doing – attempting to create political parties to challenge the system. But that’s not my model – our model in Indi is something different – it will focus on using those years of community development skills to engage with people – creating a strong democratic link between policy and people.  The legacy will be a model for engagement.

There is a mentality that rural people will vote for the person or the party that promises the most ‘stuff.’  That a rural vote is for sale. That it can be bought by the highest bidder.

My view is that rural people are crying out for authentic representation, for honest engagement whether it be from a member of the Government, opposition or cross bench. (and by the by, it’s been a long time since Indi got ‘major’ stuff from any government – searching my memory for major funding initiatives in the Howard years I came up with the Albury bypass – and even then the major spending was in NSW).

Around rural Australia we have seen independents delivering for their electorates – there’s a great tradition of authentic representation and honest engagement. I hope to be a politician in this tradition.

The Voice for Indi report prepared as part of the campaign gives me a solid basis for my role and it will be complemented by the Hume Strategy for sustainable communities, covering off on infrastructure.

Community is important.  Most of us practice our politics at the community level.  To be effective I am on the lookout for a smallish caravan which will become my mobile office — Ewen Cameron and Lou Lieberman and Sophie Mirabella too — did this and I aim to continue the tradition. I’ll be out and about: and in the first instance I’ll be paying particular attention to small business, farmers, young people and aboriginal people.

Agriculture is important: researching, growing, teaching, value adding, processing, distribution and eating – our valleys with their fresh and clean water, deep soils and vibrant communities give us a strong competitive advantage. There’s some impressive work being carried out by the dairy industry in the Mitta and Kiewa Valleys – increasing production, bringing in new money, enhancing skills and researching ownership models. It’s a great model and there is much we can learn that can be shared with other valleys. Growing Indi’s agriculture production and manufacturing will be an important focus.

The environment is important for me – for many of us, it’s why we live in Indi – we love our valleys, hills, rivers, lakes, mountains, flora and fauna. Taking effective action about climate change is a high priority.  I am committed to working with the communities of Indi to lessen our carbon foot print and with the government when it introduces its ‘Direct Action’ programs.

And telecommunications underpins everything we do: our communities, our ability to deliver services, to export, to education, to be healthy, - it’s a priority.  In Indi we are setting up partnerships with local government, state government and other groups, to do the planning, research options for funding and delivery. It is early days – but watch this space.

Public transport is also important: let me briefly talk about the train service. With an average of 13 and a half million journeys made in the last two years on V/line trains at an estimated subsidy of $20 per journey – why is the Albury/Wodonga route one of the only lines without plans for a Vlocity train service?


Train service in NE Victoria has been a sorry saga, but it’s beginning to look up, with the Australian Rail Track Corporation making progress on fixing up the mud holes, now it’s the rolling stock, with access to mobile phones and broadband that urgently needs to be ‘fixed up’. A focus I am pleased to share with the four state members of parliament!

The quote from the toilet door at Mittagundi – “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.”  I believe this!  It’s not just what we do; it’s how we do it that matters.

I am up for the challenge. I am confident that like winning the election, we can make a difference.

We have the people, the place and the time: three years – 1095 days; over 700 volunteers, the team from Voice for Indi; three offices, six dedicated staff and the strength, skills, courage of the people of Indi.

Thanks – and in conclusion

My purpose today has been to introduce myself, allowing for you – members of the Victorian Press Club to get to know me and what you might expect over the next three years. 

In closing I’d like to acknowledge and to thank you –for the support you give to rural Australia and especially rural Victoria – we are your audience, we know you –often by name - we listen to you, we read your words, and we appreciate what you do for us – and YES that includes ABC rural, the Weekly Times, and all those of you who work in institutions to keep us informed especially the VFF.

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