Ruth McGowan
Ruth McGowan OAM is an experienced consultant to the local government sector. Based in Victoria, she manages her consultancy business Ruth McGowan Pty Ltd as an adviser, coach, trainer and facilitator to councils and leadership organisations. A qualified agricultural scientist, Ruth spent the first 20 years of her career managing large projects for the Victorian government before moving to local government - first as a councillor and mayor and now as a consultant. She is the author of 'Get Elected: A step-by-step guide to winning public office'.
Ruth McGowan
Ruth is passionate about improving gender equality in political representation, based on her own experience of being the only woman councillor when she was first elected to Baw Baw Shire Council; a situation she worked to successfully change when she was elected a second time. As a candidate-coach and trainer, Ruth has worked on many campaigns including her own successful runs for office and then as coordinator of the ‘Independent for Indi’ campaigns in 2013 and 2016 for her sister Cathy McGowan which saw Cathy elected to federal parliament. In April 2019, Ruth published 'Get Elected', which collates the tips and checklists used in her Get Elected workshops into a comprehensive guide as well as advice and case studies from other successful candidates for office. 'Get Elected' is the first national campaign guide on running for office at either a local, state or federal level and explains the steps needed to plan and run a political campaign. Ruth is a proud community activist and her volunteer service over many years has been acknowledged with an Order of Australia Medal and a National Emergency Medal.
Member for Indi Cathy McGowan (left) and Ruth McGowan at the Parliament House launch of Ruth’s book ‘Get Elected’. Photo: supplied

I wrote Get Elected both at the urging of my sister Cathy McGowan, the Member for Indi, as a way of capturing and sharing the Indi experiences, and also to improve the diversity of representation in Australian politics where the vast majority of politicians are ‘older, white men’. 

I hope that I can inspire diverse candidates and prompt more women to step forward, run for office and get elected. My book is for competent, independently-minded candidates who are progressive in their thinking and prepared to lead the change they wish to see in their community and the world.

This extract is from Part 1 of my book, ‘Decide’…

First things first; make the decision

Be clear on your motivation

Why run for office? Simon Sinek, a best-selling author of Start with Why says: “Your why is the purpose, cause or belief that inspires you”. For candidates running for office, the reason behind your ‘why I am running?’  must make you so hungry for public office that it drives you to get elected and win — every single day. It’s your cause, grounded in your convictions, underpinned by your values and informed by your principles. This why will motivate you and attract support for your message.

Let’s consider some typical inspiration behind why people run for public office. 

First, people can be annoyed or pissed off that the government or local council (or the public service ruled by the laws and policies of government) has done something or is planning to do something with which they disagree. If you are elected, you pledge to change this. 

Second, people can be passionate about a cause they feel is not getting enough ‘air time’ or being ignored by their representatives. If you are elected, you pledge to give more resources to prosecute the agenda for this cause. 

Third, people may be interested in politics as a career and enjoy being political. They may like the ‘cut and thrust’ of political debate, the power, privilege and publicity that comes with the role or they may simply see it as an effective way to make a difference.

It may be a mix of pissed off/passion/politics that determines your WHY, purpose, cause or belief. When you can articulate your WHY, it will activate you to stand. Then it becomes the fuel that inspires you every day of your campaign race be a successful candidate.

Case Study – the 3 Ps and how they activated three different candidates to run for office

  • A candidate is pissed off about something

Jacquie Lambie, Senator for Tasmania from 2014–2017 began her career by serving in the Australian army for 11 years. She was medically discharged with a chronic back injury. She often talks of her physical and mental battle to recover from her injury and her fight for compensation from Veterans Affairs. She told a reporter in 2015, ‘I just couldn’t believe that a government department could operate the way Veterans Affairs did and get away with it. So that’s what got me interested in politics.’

  • A candidate is passionate about a cause 

Andrew Wilkie, Independent MP for the Tasmanian seat of Denison is a strong advocate for poker machine reform. He says that of the 600,000 Australians who play poker machines weekly, 15 per cent are gambling addicts, and they lose almost $5 billion a year. He has pushed for gambling donation reform saying, ‘Like tobacco industry donations, it’s entirely unethical for political parties to accept close to $1 million in donations from people who profit from the misery of problem gamblers.’

  • A candidate is keen on politics as a career choice or as a way to better serve their community, state or nation. 

Rebekha Sharkie, elected federal Member for the South Australian seat of Mayo in 2016 and again at a by-election in 2018, had previously worked as a political staffer to several Liberal politicians, before deciding to stand for office with a micro party. With years of first-hand experience as volunteer with the South Australian Liberal Party, Rebekha was frustrated that her federal member was not delivering what she wanted for her community. So, she decided to run herself. In an interview with Rebekha, I asked her to describe her motivation:

After years of seeing my region being taken for granted, constantly being overlooked for infrastructure investment and being stonewalled on  important issues, I became convinced our electorate needed to be more marginal. We were a ‘safe’ blue seat and the Liberals used that fact to put in a staffer they had groomed for the role rather than a local. Our community didn’t thrive as it should, even when that Liberal MP was selected for the Ministry.

There was an alignment of factors that led me to put my hand up as a candidate but essentially I decided to be the change I wanted for my community; Fortunately for me, my community was ready for change and I am so proud and grateful that they gave me the opportunity to represent them.

Rebekha Sharkie

‘Get Elected’ by Ruth McGowan. Available from the author’s website.


The first national book on ‘how to campaign’, Get Elected is a guide to winning public office at a local, state or federal level. 

Cathy McGowan launched the guide on April 4, 2019 in Parliament House, Canberra with the call to action “Don’t get mad – get elected!”

Two bad keystrokes and your campaign can be wiped out. This is why Get Elected is a must-read for anyone contemplating running for political office and wanting to avoid the potential pitfalls that can turn your campaign into a disaster.

Tim Fischer AC and former federal MP, Leader of the National Party and Deputy Prime Minister of Australia

There is an art and science to politics and getting elected. Get Elected explains the science. I wish I had had this guide at my fingertips when I ran my first campaign almost a decade ago. It would have saved a lot of nail-biting guesswork and costly mistakes.

Ali Cupper the Independent Victorian state MP for Mildura

Copies of Get Elected are available directly from Ruth McGowan at her website: