LAST SATURDAY NIGHT preparing for Helen Haines’ Sunday campaign launch – the forth campaign for a community independent here – I reflected on the Morrison shit-show (a firestorm on Twitter) and on the privilege it’s been watching the people of Indi repeatedly reject rubbish representation in Canberra.
Cathy McGowan’s 2013 win wasn’t just about the personality of then incumbent, Liberal hard right enforcer and Shadow Minister, Sophie Mirabella. It was also about the hard right politics of the politician.
Each founding member of Voices for Indi (V4I) I’ve spoken to points to political acts of the former Member they felt shamed them and the electorate, compelling them to act.
To cut a longer story short: a small politically activated group in 2012 set themselves the task of asking their electorate to reclaim its voice in national politics, through a process (key) of participatory democracy, so in future when the Member for Indi went to Canberra, the community of Indi was represented.
The Indi way
That small group that met at the Wangaratta Library discovered an electorate that felt the same – Indi wanted a better way of doing politics and a voice in Canberra speaking for them.
The Indi commitment to doing politics differently is about respectful conversations so every voice participating is heard, then applying a transparent process to record and collate those conversations in a meaningful way that guides Indi’s representation in Canberra.
Since 2013, each time the Member for Indi speaks or acts in Parliament it is the community ‘Voices’ process that guides them.
In 2019, Haines made history by keeping Indi independent after Cathy McGowan retired from Parliament.
Community trust in the process is the key ingredient to Indi’s new power that’s so far made the electorate “indivisible”.
Voices for Indi at its genesis was political, today the local movement has huge numbers of experienced campaigners across the electorate who care deeply about their politics in Canberra.
Most local campaigns have been up and running for some time. The Orange Team have been getting their hubs together.
Labor MPs, Bill Shorten and Ged Kearney attended local events in support of local candidate, Nadia David and in Benalla her campaign is targeting the closure of the local Centrelink office, initially temporarily closed as the COVID pandemic swept the nation, and then permanently.
Sophie Mirabella’s husband, Greg was dropped into the Senate late last year and now has an electorate office in Benalla. Bridget McKenzie has an electorate office in Wodonga at the top end of the electorate.
Mirabella and McKenzie must both contest their seats at the upcoming election.
A founding member of Voices for Indi, Susan Benedyka is looking to translate the Indi process of participatory democracy to a Victorian Senate seat – she’s competing for Mirabella’s seat who is third on the Coalition ticket.
I attended one of Benedyka’s early campaign strategy meetings – a ‘Voices’ pioneer having a go at translating the Indi process of participatory democracy to a Senate seat and bumping into a Mirabella on the way – the race has my attention.
Benedyka is still waiting to find out if she will appear above the line on the ballot.
The Liberals are once again running newspaper attack advertisements.
Haines responded on Twitter describing the advertisement as misinformation.
Similar false claims were made about the voting record of, McGowan leading into the 2019 campaign.
The Liberals tried to construct the same false Labor and Greens front narrative in 2013, 2016 and 2019.
Senator Jane Hume authorised the advertising, which is a strange twist after Indi Liberals supported Cory Bernardi’s far right Senate candidates, not her, during the 2019 campaign.
Signs are popping up around the electorate and in Benalla the Liberals seem to have a slight edge on the Haines campaign – Indi orange has never won the town, but the local hub of volunteers are determined to change that.
Packing my bag prior to the launch, I pondered an Orange campaign launch without McGowan who was lending support to independent candidate, Hanabeth Luke, in the climate flood ravished NSW seat of Page.
McGowan’s been active in electorates across the country and recently spent time in a cage at the Park Hotel, Melbourne in an act of “solidarity” with refugees imprisoned by the government.
The Haines launch
I arrived at the Wodonga ‘block’ hub a few minutes before the launch was due to start, set up a recorder and started taking photos as the last of the arrivals took their seats.
Looking into the crowd of faces familiar and new, I thought about McGowan’s first two terms of Indi’s independence – I see a legacy of local political knowledge, access and power.
At her core, McGowan’s an organiser, facilitator and mentor – she’s a builder and a teacher (she actually was a teacher).
What V4I and McGowan in her two terms built doesn’t rely on a personality – it relies on the many faces in the crowd I was looking at, their shared values and respect for a process that they know gives them and their community real power in Canberra.
In that moment it made sense McGowan wasn’t at the launch. She was where she was needed, with a great community campaign washed away by the climate floods like so much else in the electorate of Page.
I hope the Liberals try to make something of her absence. That might be even funnier than the time McGowan sent the Liberals to Christmas believing they might convince her to vote against Phelps’ MediVac bill.
Haines delivered her speech confidently, with the power and authority of a woman who knows she speaks for her community – Indi launch speeches are more of a political affirmation than political pitch.
The ‘Voices’ movement is a new political power, but of community – the political establishment know this and something else they know – new power comes at the expense their old power.
Haines made it clear she’s ready to fiercely defend Indi’s independence and the length and breadth of her speech suggest she’s ready for anything.
Around the nation so many now look to Indi as a lighthouse electorate showing a new way of doing politics.Helen Haines
Earlier in the speech, Haines went a little off script while talking about Sal Kimber and her version of From Little Things Big Things Grow.
…and how big things have grown!Helen Haines
I felt she was acknowledging, at the start of her speech, that the growth of the national movement out of Indi brings new campaign dynamics.
Over three campaigns I watched the same Liberal attacks fail because genuine community campaigns have deep roots into the community – you can’t bullshit to community about community.
But, how will misinformation designed to discredit Haines and the ‘Voices’ process fall in other electorates?
The Coalition have to try and kill an idea that’s spread through their seats like wildfire – they’ll relentlessly strike at the movements spiritual home, Indi.
I reckon Indi’s famous ‘be your best self’ mantra will be tested like never before.
Haines should hold Indi but as she says in her speech, the seat is marginal and it will take a lot of work.