PRIOR TO JANUARY of this year I’d had no real interest in being involved in election campaigning or politics in general. I had always been somewhat of a fence sitter when it came to politics, having come from a family of ‘rusted on’ Liberal arty eccentrics. It didn’t fill me with much enthusiasm, conviction or hope to follow in any of their footsteps.
The fact was I never felt I fitted the Liberal party mould; I had never felt comfortable with the pomposity and pretentiousness. I felt strongly that hereditary expectation was not a valid reason to support the party, so I didn’t.
The party, founded by Menzies on a philosophy of standing up for the ‘forgotten people’ of Australia, for ‘mainstream Australians whose goals, needs and aspirations’ he felt ‘had been ignored by the Government’, was not the Liberal party of today.
In my lifetime, the Liberal party has become a party of self-promotion and indulgence, prejudice and a bias toward the big end of town. It had in effect exchanged one group of ‘forgotten people’ for another. I couldn’t see myself aligning with a party that did not govern for all but only for the few and so when I became old enough to enrol to vote I refused and did not do so until some 22 years later.
A new and collective voice for the people
In mid 2014, a year after Cathy McGowan had changed the political landscape in Indi, becoming the first Independent MP for Indi, we moved to live in Rutherglen. Cathy had campaigned as a progressive alternative to the incumbent Liberal party apparatchik, Sophie Mirabella. For 85 years Indi had been represented by a conservative party, but in 2013 Cathy had offered the constituents real leadership with a disarming charm, a listening ear, transparency and integrity. She stood up for the electorate and she offered a better way forward.
Sophie Mirabella had certainly underestimated the electorate, having stated to Cathy at one point that “the people of Indi aren’t interested in politics”. How wrong she was! As it turned out Indi was interested in politics and in fact so much so that it was the only seat that the Liberal party lost in the 2013 election.
In winning Indi Cathy was the beginning of a new and collective voice for the people by the people and in just short of a decade many more voices started to make some noise in electorates such as Mayo, Kooyong, Goldstein, Wentworth, Curtin, Warringah etcetera.
Cathy’s premise was it is necessary to not just do but to listen to the electorate, stand up for the electorate and be the people’s voice in parliament. Cathy was certainly the change we needed in Indi and when Helen Haines stepped up she improved on it.
I wanted to participate in democracy
Although I had voted for Helen Haines in 2019 and Cathy McGowan before her in 2016, I was far too busy as a mum of two kids and focussed on their wellbeing to have time for politics. But, in mid-January of this year, as many politicians were stepping up their ‘unofficial’ campaigning in readiness for the forthcoming election, there were numerous new candidates popping up and a strong independent movement was growing at a great rate of knots.
There was real change in the air and I liked what I saw and heard. I decided I wanted to get involved in some small way, more than just as a voter, I wanted to participate in democracy, I wanted to speak out and show up. I wanted to show my affiliation to a party or independent who aligned with my values, and who showed kindness and consideration in their work.
So, I went to work getting to know a little more about our local candidates. I wanted to bend their ears, hear them out and get a clearer perspective on where they stood on a number of issues that were important to me.
What I found cemented my gut feeling of where I would place my support and there was no question that it was with Helen Haines. It was obvious she shared the same core values as I.
Within a week I had been vetted, agreed to the core values and figured that all I would need to do would be to place a corflute on my fence and that would be it. Not quite! Next, I was invited to attend the first gathering of Rutherglen past and new volunteers. It was still early days, yet there was an air of positivity and a firm belief in what Helen was standing for, and a far better alternative to any of the other candidates on many key issues and concerns.
By the time of her official launch there were over 400 volunteers in attendance and by election day well over 1800 volunteers on the ground. There were meetings, ideas, doorknocking and phone calling, street stalls, flash mobs, cafe and street corner chats it was all happening. Nothing was too hard or too great when we all had a single focus and such a strong belief in getting Helen re-elected. The camaraderie and the focus was electric.
In all my life I have never worked with such an amazing group of people who have such a positive belief, who embrace each other, support each other, help, create, supply, drive, tally, communicate, respect and laugh with each other.
Never have I felt more alive, more welcome, more accepted and more validated for being a small part of such a growing and positive movement. It made it so worthwhile.
With the election now over, Helen has officially been reinstated, a newly appointed Labor government is now running the big house and there has been a huge increase in independent representation. Things are looking good and my role as a volunteer had come to an official end.
But no!! It is not the end, it is only the beginning
I am so pleased to say that the Rutherglen team has decided to continue to stand as an outpost representing, supporting and fundraising for Helen in an unofficial capacity through to the next election. We feel it’s vitally important that we keep in touch with the groundswell of voters in our area, listen, act, inform, talk with and follow up on important issues, calls to action and concerns as a connection to the area in a very low key but effective way.
For us to have gained a record amount of outright first votes in Rutherglen with a swing of 15.7 percent it is imperative that we keep the mojo going, keep the connection alive and an active presence in the area during this parliamentary term.
And with that it brings us to the now. I have slowly floated down from the orange tinted clouds that raised me to such lofty heights on election night. This amazing experience is one I will never forget no matter how long into the future I may be involved. It’s the buzz, the energy, the connection with other likeminded people, the joy, the happiness, the love. I would gladly do it all again in a heartbeat.
Feature image: Helen Haines delivers her campaign launch speech. (Photo: Wayne Jansson)
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