Margo Kingston

Margo Kingston

Co-publisher and editor-in-chief at No Fibs
Margo Kingston is a retired Australian journalist and climate change activist. She is best known for her stint as Phillip Adams’ ‘Canberra Babylon’ contributor and her work at The Sydney Morning Herald and #Webdiary. Since 2012, Kingston has been a citizen journalist, reporting and commenting on Australian politics via Twitter and No Fibs.
Margo Kingston

“This new community has formed based on radical trust and now I have to actually live up to that trust and indeed do politics differently”

Kate Chaney MP

No Fibs has helped document Kate Chaney’s campaign for Curtin since I accidentally scored the first interview with her post announcement

We published her launch speech and her volunteers Twitter launch report.

Kate debuted on @NoFibs’ podcast during the last week of the campaign when the race was too close to call.

After the election we published a volunteer story by Gareth Williams, and Curtin Independent co-founder Tony Fairweather wrote us a three part series on how it all happened: Launching Curtin Independent, Finding Kate and the campaign team and On the ground and the day of reckoning

Nearly two years in, Kate said representing Curtin was “definitely the most demanding job I’ve ever done,” and she’s loving it.

She’ll stand again, this time against a top tier candidate selected to win back the jewel in the WA Libs’s crown. Tom White said he’d door-knock and listen full time till the election. Kate said she’d just keep doing the job and if voters wanted to let her go she’d do something else.

So what is she doing and how, in Curtin and in Parliament? Enjoy! 

Transcript, lightly edited for clarity by Margo

Margo Kingston: Hi folks. Curtin was Western Australia’s richest, most influential seat, the ultra safe jewel in the WA Libs crown. Very, very late, in late October, 2021, a few Curtin voters formed Curtin Independent, found Kate Cheney in late January 2022, and somehow, some way, she scraped in with 51 percent on May 21. We last spoke during the campaign’s frenetic last week and discussed how she led her volunteers in building a plane while flying it. She said then she would not stand again if she lost. Two years in, hi again Kate.

Kate Chaney: Hello Margo, it is a pleasure to be with you.

Margo: Yeah you too. Right, what were your thoughts and feelings when you knew you’d won and how did you create the new startup?

Kate: I didn’t know that I’d won for about four or five days after the election. And it was a really interesting time. I found that I felt pretty calm about it, actually. I felt like no matter what happens, we’ve run the campaign in a way that feels like it had integrity. I’ve done the very best that I could. I’ve given it everything. And either way, Curtin will not be considered a safe seat again.

So I was fairly calm – I think a lot of my team were feeling less calm about it. Part of me also was thinking, “And if I don’t win, I can go back to my nice life”. But I did feel very excited when I did find out that I had the seat, and very honoured as well. It is a huge honour to be elected as a representative, and I felt the responsibility of it.

You know, it’s quite a weight as well, thinking this new community has formed based on radical trust and now I have to actually live up to that trust and indeed do politics differently. So that’s really the thinking that I’ve tried to carry through the last few years.

I’ve really tried to retain some of that naivety, because coming in fresh from other careers, there are some parts of how politics works that seem really weird, and there’s a danger that it becomes normalised and you think that that’s just how it’s done and you forget that you can challenge it and things can change. 

So I’ve tried to really keep some of those thoughts and feelings from that first few weeks and not lose the novelty of them.

Margo: You’re a third generation federal politician, like naturally you feel the weight in that sense, and the responsibility of being the generation that left the Liberal Party and said it was “Power without Purpose” now and you’re going to do something different. I remember when you first announced, you said ‘Fred told me not to do it, my Dad told me not to do it’. How have they gone with what’s happened?

Kate:  Certainly Uncle Fred has been a fantastic North Star through the last couple of years, and a really good voice of reason and reminder to focus on the big things, not sweat the small stuff, not take things personally. And that’s been really useful. 

I mean, you say third generation and the weight of that, but to be honest, my grandfather died 20 years ago. My uncle, Fred, left politics when I was leaving high school. So even though there’s that historical connection there, I didn’t feel like I had any strong personal connection to the Liberal Party. So politics was really something quite new for me. And I did feel like I was coming into it as an outsider, even though there was that historical family connection.

Margo: When you decided to stand you’ve got these volunteers, and we talked last time about how do you make this work. It’s a second startup when you win, I guess, but in another way, it’s a real transition, isn’t it? You had all these volunteers, did you have paid staff?

Kate: We had a small number of paid staff, but none of them had any political experience at all so it felt like volunteers. Basically we were paying them so they were able to drop whatever it was that they were previously doing and get on board. As you say, it was very much like a startup, and coming in as a new independent, there’s no structure, there’s no how-to book.

Margo: Wow, how exciting!

Kate:  I’ve changed industries and jobs a number of times before, and I think that was really useful because I started the same way I would have started in changing any other job. And that is you are curious and humble about how much you don’t know, and ask lots of questions. So I went over with Sarah Silbert, who’d been my campaign manager, and visited Helen Haynes in Indi and Zali Steggell in Sydney. 

Margo: And Dai Li, that was so savvy. 

Kate: I had a chat with a number of the new independents, but I spent extended time with Helen and Zali, who had previously done the job and already had an office set up. And so, I approached it like any other problem, which was, ‘How are we going to do this?’ And you literally start with, ‘I suppose we’re going to need an IT system’. 

Everything is completely brand new and you go along and do a three hour orientation at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Office and within five minutes they were saying don’t sexually assault your staff. And I was thinking, ‘I think we’ve got that covered but do we have an office, is there a budget?’. 

It’s really really basic, but it was hard because from day one a hundred emails a day were pouring in with people saying, ‘What’s your position on XYZ?’ It could be very overwhelming, but we just pushed on through and I was very lucky to continue with some people from the campaign who moved into the electorate office roles. Then we recruited some more people and I have the most fantastic, passionate team, still none of whom have ever done this sort of work before, but all have brought expertise from different areas and a lot of enthusiasm. 

And really we just sort of started from basic principles, ‘How do we think we can best represent the electorate and best support people in their interactions with government?’

Margo: So very early on there was a crushing blow. I know Zali completely spat the dummy about Albo just slashing independent staff to nothing. I know a couple of other members have actually got people volunteering to staff and do community engagement. How have you managed the budget and managed to engage in what, reading your newsletters, is a really extensive, intensive, varied form of community engagement and feedback and accountability.

Kate: When this staffing cut announcement was made I’d never done the job before so I had no idea if that was a problem or not. I didn’t feel comfortable asking my community to fund roles for me to do the job. So we’ve worked within the resourcing constraints that are provided, but it has meant that we’ve needed to tap into volunteer support more. In some ways that has ensured that we are true to the community independent model. I can say it would definitely be really great to have a few more policy staff on the payroll. We make do with what we’ve got and then we rely on the huge generosity of experts but also constituents to bring their professional skills in volunteer roles. 

So for example, last year we did a Curtin pathway to net zero project where we had 50 volunteers in five working groups looking at different areas of the decarbonisation journey ahead. And they met fortnightly for a year and we had academics and engineers and policymakers and landscape gardeners and architects all bringing and interested community members, all bringing their thoughts to those discussions and having civil discussion about what the priorities were, what the pathway was to decarbonisation. And I love that as a piece of community work because you could have outsourced that to a consultant for a couple of hundred thousand dollars, but it would not have had the depth and balance. And buy-in as well, that this place of work has. 

Margo: It’s so radical, so wonderful.

Kate: And I love it because this is now a mandate that I have from 50 deeply engaged volunteers in my community saying, ‘Here are the priority areas we want you to advocate for at a federal level’. And it’s also a wonderful empowering piece for people to take to their local or state representatives as well, to say, ‘What are you doing about our decarbonisation journey?’ So I feel like it not only gave me a mandate, it gave us a really positive vision and it gave people a tool to advocate in all sorts of different contexts.

Margo: So did your group come up with a path to net zero in Curtin? 

Kate: Yeah, we did. I mean, and I say that it’s in conceptual terms, but it has a snapshot of what our emissions currently are. It runs through the major themes of electricity, buildings, transport, greening and waste and identifies in each of those areas what federal government needs to do, what State government needs to do, what local governments need to do. We have eight local governments within Curtin, and we actually do a comparison of how those eight local governments are doing on those criteria. And it also then has actions that individuals can take, the easiest, the cheapest, the most impactful, and the political action. So people can take out of it, you know, whatever they want. 

It’s also deeply referenced. We have 12 pages of references, so any statement in there that talks about how we are going to get there and where we need to go, you can check where it’s come from and if you actually agree with it. We really wanted it to have that intellectual rigour, but also be very accessible. I have a person on my team, Claire Gardner, who works a day and a half a week and is really passionate about this and facilitated these five working groups within that small envelope of her paid It just really shows even what one person can do in my team with the permission and the mandate and the freedom.

Margo: One thing I noticed very early – I think you were the pioneer on this – you invited the Labor Speaker of the House of Representatives over to Curtin and had a chat to him in a town hall and people could ask whatever they like and find out how the Parliament worked. I noticed later David Pocock invited Tony Burke to a town hall packed with unions and small business throwing questions at him. There’s just, there’s an opening somehow that’s happening. Is there a feeling of possibility in the parliament in that way?

Kate: It’s wonderfully exciting, Margo, and I think one of the great things about coming to this as an outsider is we don’t know what we can’t do, so we just do it anyway. And that’s been very freeing. 

We wonder what people think about this issue, well we’ll have a workshop and put in a Curtin submission. If I have an event on an issue, my preference is for there to be some output, where rather than just saying, ‘Come and hear about this issue’, I’ll say, ‘Come and hear about this issue and tell me what you think’. Then we’ll take what you think and turn it into a product that feeds into our democratic processes. So a submission of some sort or a report that I can then take to a minister.

So there are these very real channels of communication between Canberra and my community and from my community to Canberra as well. And I think it’s also great for people to hear different people’s perspective and understand some of those trade-offs. 

It’s a much richer conversation if you go to a workshop and you sit at a table with people who have different views to you. And you actually have to decide, ‘What are our three priorities on housing?’ and talk about that with people who come from a different perspective, because we lose this richness of debate in our polarised tribal political discussions. I’m really trying to improve the quality of the debate we have on these very complex issues.

Margo:  Yeah, it sounds like it really is a start up, and there’s a thesis in it, isn’t there? 

Kate: I can’t think about that, Margo. We try not to overthink it.

Margo: No, no, but it’s just so damn exciting. It’s like ongoing continuous deliberative democracy in Curtin. Like, Wow.

Kate: Yeah, and there are some fascinating models with deliberative democracy like citizens’ assembly, and I’d love to see more of that. What we’re trying to do is find the lo-fi version of that. What’s the replicable models of informing people and then hearing what they think in a balanced civil way that doesn’t actually cost you three months of time and energy. 

And of course there are always trade-offs. The shorter the event, the less deeply you can give people the information they need to make informed decisions. But we’re trying to explicitly trial these different models. And I think we’ve got a pretty good working model now, which is open invitation – people come along, you share some information with them.

You have some guiding questions, find ways to hear them, often using post-it notes and group work, and then some prioritisation processes that we then write up and share. And that model – if you’ve only got one policy advisor, you need to work like that. I need my community to do the work.

It’s also very much true to my role as a community independent to be the channel for people to share their thoughts through, adding some value to it. It’s obviously not, it’s not just come and tell us what you think and I’ll write it up without any consideration or moderation.

But I think there’s some real value in that. The next challenge I have not overcome yet is that generally people who come to my events are more likely to be my supporters. Now it’s my job to represent the full electorate, including the almost half of it who didn’t vote for me, didn’t prefer me. And the challenge now is, how do you actually make sure you’re hearing those voices as well? You can invite people to come to events, but you can’t make them.

And that’s where the sortition model is really useful in a deliberative democracy environment where people are randomly selected to be representative as opposed to the self-selection of those who choose to turn up.

Margo: It’s not as though the Libs are going to give up the jewel without a fight, is it Kate? In February two pretty high profile guys fought it out (and) Tom White was preselected and he’s starting early. He’s ex-president of the Young Libs, he was a government advisor under a former W.A. Liberal government. He got in on the ground when Uber started up in Perth, he went overseas and made his fortune and he’s come home. I listened to an interview he did on 6PR (and) he said, ‘Right, I’ve given up my job, I am 12 months door knocking and listening and my Liberal Party and convince people it’s best to be part of a team because you can make things happen’. Is that serious competition or are you just pretty relaxed and comfortable about it?

Kate: Oh, look, I think it’s good for democracy, for things to be a genuine competition with people who are trying hard to present alternatives. 

To be honest, I find it’s very weird coming into a world where it seems the norm is to do the job for two years and then spend a year talking about how you’re gonna do the job next time. So I’m still very much focused on doing the job this year.

There’ll be an election at some point, and of course we’re doing some planning about that, but really I see my role as doing the best job I can now to represent the people of Curtin in what I find to be an exciting new way and providing those opportunities for people to play an active role in our democracy.

I welcome those discussions. I welcome the exchanges of ideas that we’ll have as part of that campaign. Ultimately, if the people of Curtin decide that they would prefer to have a Liberal Party person representing them, there are plenty of other things I can go and do with my life to have an impact. 

But right now, I’m still excited about the option of this different way of doing politics and giving people the option of having someone who’s not beholden to vested interests or a party line, driven by the community, able to be a sensible centre voice that doesn’t predictably vote yes or no depending on what the other guys are doing, and can work constructively with both sides of politics. So I think I’ve still got something to offer and want to keep presenting that.

We’ll see how it goes next year, but in the meantime it’s really exciting doing it like this.

Margo: … I don’t know quite how you did it, but you landed very important committee jobs on the Standing Committee on Electoral Matters and the committee examining gambling. And you seem to me to be making that your top two. Like each independent seems to have a (focus), like Allegra is handling tax. You granddaughters of Menzies ministers take on the big ones, don’t you? Okay, so you’re pushing very hard for a ban on online gaming ads, a unanimous recommendation from the committee, which is pretty good. And electoral matters, you’ve taken the bull by the horns (and) presented the Fair and Transparent Elections Bill. That is very, very important and I was so proud that you did a Helen Haines – before the last election she got every single crossbencher from far left to far right to back her in on her federal ICAC bill, and you’ve done the same for your bill. It’s so telling that it’s the big two saying, ‘Oh my god’.

Tell us more about that and how that’s going.

Kate: The committee work I find a really interesting part of the role, because you do work with people from across the political spectrum on issues that are important. And so reviewing the 2022 federal election, being part of that committee has been fascinating. And from hearing all the evidence from a range of different witnesses, there were a lot of things that came out for me that weren’t reflected in the majority report and that I thought were reforms that need to happen in our electoral system if we are actually going to retain the faith of the electorate. 

So that committee work formed the basis of my first bill, the restoring trust bill that I introduced last August. And it was really important to me that that was developed with academics, with think tanks, with democracy, organisations and the crossbench because I saw this as being really the minimum requirement in terms of electoral reform. 

There were some things over and above that people had different views on, but I pitched 13 reforms that had really broad support around improving transparency, reducing financial influence and levelling the playing field.

It’s interesting, you introduce a piece of legislation as a private member and it’s entirely performative – there’s no way that this bill will become law. It just doesn’t work like that. But you draw a line in the sand, you put it into parliament, you have the opportunity to talk about it, and then also to talk about it in the media. And you say, here is an option that is actually possible. And it creates an expectation on government to then respond to that.

Margo: They must hate you for that… My interpretation just reading the news is you went in early because they were putting it off.

Kate: Well, and that’s my job. So I introduced a bill in August ,and then about a month ago, that came off the notice paper (and then) I introduced a similar bill that had some slight changes in it that had the broad support of the crossbench in both the lower house and the Senate. And so that was really saying to government, you could pass this legislation now.

Margo: Yeah, no wonder they freaked out.

Kate: And well, because the big concern is that the two major parties do a deal on electoral reform. They say this is a good deal, but actually it has the effect of embedding the status quo. 

We don’t let Coles and Woolies make the laws about supermarket competition, but somehow we do let the major political parties make the laws about how elections run.

And so I think it’s really important that there is community scrutiny on whatever electoral reform package the government introduces so we understand what long-term impact it has. And 99.6 percent of Australians are not members of a major political party, but we let the point four govern how the rules work. And so I think it’s really important that we have a level playing field, so that we allow competition in our political sphere just like we want competition in business, because it keeps things healthy and innovating and adapting. And we don’t want it to become sclerotic and embedding the way it’s always been, because things have to be able to evolve. 

So it’s really important. Every decision we make in Parliament is underpinned by who’s making the decision, how they got there and who they might owe something to.

So (on) gambling reform, the Social Policy and Legal Affairs Committee did an inquiry into online gambling. And as you said, it was pretty unusual to have unanimous recommendations, 31 of them, including a strong one that I really pushed for on that committee, that we phase out online gambling ads the way we have with tobacco. Such a strong report – it’s almost a year later, government hasn’t responded to that yet. 

And I can’t help thinking that’s got something to do with the fact that gambling companies are huge political donors. They’ve got a lot of power. Media companies will suffer a loss of revenue if they ban online gambling ads. They’ve got a lot of power and the major parties are very scared of them. But we have to make sure that politicians are not driven by where the donor money is coming from (but) by what’s in the public interest.

And that’s why I think that role of holding government to account, shining a light on these issues so that governments and opposition have to actually account for their decision-making, is so important.

Margo: Okay, so I want to get on to a hard one. I noticed during the referendum campaign you campaigned very strongly for  Yes. How did that work? Because you ended up with about 600 or 700 volunteers at the last election, didn’t you?

Kate: I think we had 700 volunteers for the Yes campaign in ‘Curtin for Yes’.

Margo: So they came back. You kept the database and you said, would you like to help with this one? And the volunteers from the campaign came back.

Kate:  Oh look, there was some crossover. It wasn’t the same group. It was set up differently. We recruited volunteers for the referendum campaign. So it certainly wasn’t, and I didn’t, it’s interesting, I didn’t see it as a political issue. It’s a social issue. And I found it very challenging, because on most issues, I can really see both sides and I understand the complexity. It felt to me like there was a right answer and a wrong answer on the referendum. And my experience in Aboriginal Affairs had really led me to believe that the only way we were going to close the gap was by actually empowering First Nations people to take a role in their own future. So it was a no-brainer to me, and I very much put it on the table and said, you know, this is part of who you get when you elect me. And I had been clear that I was supportive of that before the election. 

I think it was a sad outcome. My most optimistic interpretation of it is that Australians have a deep-seated sense of equality and this threatened that sense of equality. And you know, there’s a difference between equality and equity and I think there are plenty of good reasons why this was not a threat to equality, but I think that’s how it was perceived…

And so it was a difficult thing, but also I felt like you don’t only fight for what you think is right when it’s a winner. And it became pretty clear in the weeks before the referendum that it didn’t have much of a chance of getting up.

Margo: Oh gee, it was clear when Dutton said it’s not bipartisan, surely. Really. I mean, you’d be touch and go if it was bipartisan in a way. Like you’re talking to someone who lived through Mabo, Wick, the Apology, the near double dissolution race election, and you saw it in the vote on the night. There was the regional and rural, it’s not a happening thing, is it?

Kate: Well, I think that that was the nail in the coffin, really.

But it felt really important to me that we kept pushing till the end for what I thought was right and what 800 people or 700, I can’t remember what it was now, in Curtin thought was right (and) I was certainly very happy that it did come out majority yes.

Margo: I think it was 51. Was it 51? It was pretty close.

Kate: So it was pretty close. It was very close to my election margin, not necessarily the same people. But yeah, and you know, it still means about half the people in the electorate that I represent had a different view. And I now have to be very aware that lots of people in Curtin (disagree)…

We do want better outcomes for Aboriginal people and did not think that that was the right way. And we have to build on the positives that came out of that and find a way forward that’s good for the whole country.

Margo:  Made me think of that first interview I did with you and you said, ‘the thing about being an independent is I don’t have to betray my conscience’. So it sounds like this is one where you didn’t feel the need to consult and work out what the electorate want. This is one where obviously, there’s three generations of Cheney’s who have been very, very committed to the cause of Aboriginal reconciliation.

Kate: Yeah, and that’s probably in some ways a fair criticism. It would be a fair criticism of me to say I formed a position on that before consulting the community. But that was part of who I was and where I came from and my professional background before I ran. So I certainly didn’t feel like I was tricking anyone in saying that that’s what I stood for. But I think I would have found it quite difficult had Curtin had a majority no vote, to reconcile that. 

But that’s the result and we all have to live with it. And sometimes the thing that you think is right doesn’t happen and you still have to do what you think is right.

Margo:  To me the big lesson – talking to my relatives who never went to uni and live all over Queensland – is that, who voted yes? The rich metro seats and remote communities. There there is a large swathe of Australia that really has no interest in this issue. My cousin didn’t know that the 1901 constitution exempted Aboriginal people from the census. She didn’t know (about) the 1967 referendum. It’s a bubble in a way. It’s such a long journey, isn’t it?

Kate: Yeah, and we’ve got learning to do, and I think it’s very difficult for First Nations people to now make sense of where to from here. We’re all actually on the hook for that decision. That’s not up to First Nations people to decide. We as a country have to decide where to from here. And I definitely think more learning has got to be a part of the path from here.

Margo: One of the things that struck me is that after the complete meltdown of Australia during the late ’90s with the Hanson phenomenon and the Two Nations thing, it all sort of got civilised again and everyone sort of moved forward, and it it just seems to have opened up Aboriginal policy as a political issue again. I don’t know how the Liberals are going to play this this time, but I hope it doesn’t happen again… it does worry me that it is now a contested area again. What do you think about that?

Kate: I agree, I think it is a worry, and it really leads into a broader worry about polarisation and tribal wars really, in the broader sense, and that’s something that I am very conscious of, that there is a lot of pressure to take a side, be part of a tribe, simplify things down to a thumbs up or a thumbs down. 

Most of the issues that we deal with are complex. And I’m really concerned about our ability to have nuanced discussions about complex issues and recognise that there can be multiple perspectives and that we need to actually find political solutions that can take (them) into account and find compromises rather than there be a winning team and a losing team on every issue. 

And that’s where I think the crossbench can play a really important role in working constructively with both sides and finding opportunities to improve legislation rather than just voting against it or voting for it, because everything can always be made better. And rather than the pendulum swinging from one team getting everything it wants to for three years and the other team getting everything it wants for three years. I think the crossbench can really have a moderating influence in the centre to take into account the interests of a larger proportion of Australians on more issues and find those compromises and those improvements and that nuance in our political debate that’s not entirely based on culture wars and identifying with the tribe.

Margo: So on that point, how are you treated by the respective parties in parliament? Is there an opening? Is there respectful discussions happening trying to work it out? Or are you the enemy to the Libs and the, ‘Oh, we’ll keep it sweet so she doesn’t lose a seat to Liberals?’ Is there a genuine opening up, do you think?

Kate: I would say it’s nuanced. Again, there’s not a simple answer to that, because definitely we, the crossbench, has a briefing with the government on legislation every sitting week, which is really useful. It’s really good to know what legislation’s coming, why it’s coming, what the issues are in it.

And I appreciate that, and I think that wasn’t happening in the last parliament, so that’s an improvement. And generally I have pretty constructive engagement with ministers on issues. There’s always an openness to further briefings and discussions about legislation, sometimes also to improvements to legislation. 

You’re not always given credit for having come up with those improvements, but that’s fine If you’re more interested in the outcome than jumping up and down.

Margo: Oh, how old -fashioned of you!

Kate: You know, that’s all right. From the Opposition, to be honest, it does feel like it’s more of a game that’s being played. And there’s generally not as much interest from the Opposition in getting the crossbench on side on a particular issue.

Having us vote with the government is a way that the Opposition can then say, ‘See, we told you that they were secretly Labor stooges’. So it’s not always driven by principle. Sometimes it’s driven much more tactically. 

And then, for example, I put up an amendment to the recent tranche of IR legislation, which capped the additional entry powers being given to unions. Now the Liberal Party voted against that amendment. And you would think that the principle behind it (meant) they would be supportive, but it was because it was proposed by me that it was not backed. 

And I find it very disappointing that the politics is seen as being more important than the policy. So wherever possible, I’m really keen to engage on the issues and on the content. I’m a whole lot less interested in the point scoring and the tactical game playing that you see a lot of in parliament.

Margo: Okay, last question. It must have gone through your mind when you knew you’d won that your entire family life will be completely upended. I mean, you’ve got three children, haven’t you, (and) a full time barrister husband. So I assume your husband has become a martyr, lucky you, and you’re in the air hours and hours and hours. What’s it been like? And how is your family adjusted?

Kate: Yeah, look, it’s a pretty unenviable lifestyle, I have to say. It’s not great living in Western Australia and working half the time in Canberra. So now one of my kids has finished school and he’s now at ANU in Canberra, so I see him over there, which is good (and) then my other two describe me as being both an absent parent and a helicopter parent in turn. So I tell them, ‘Surely that means I’m averaging out to a great parent’. Now they tell me it doesn’t quite work like that. 

But it definitely is challenging. And my husband has been absolutely incredible. I had worked part-time for 17 years before that and really probably carried more of the mental load, although he was very much an active participant in parenting. And pretty much from the day I said yes to running, I just hand-balled the mental load to him. And he’s done an amazing job of delivering on that. Not always exactly how I would do it, but actually that’s fine too. And the kids have become more independent as a result of it. And they still have their issues just like they would if I was at home. But they, and I talked to them recently about the decision to run again (and) the kids are supportive of that and my husband’s supportive of it too. So I think that ultimately that was the test…

It comes at a cost, but they’ve been really incredible and I feel very lucky to have supportive kids and husband and extended family who are great at picking up the pieces when the wheels fall off, which inevitably they do from time to time.

Margo: I couldn’t believe it when I saw you again after two years and I just thought you must have been botoxed or something. You actually look the same as when I interviewed you in the last week of the campaign in that you’re shining. I mean, for someone with so much academic and practical business consulting training to be able to say, ‘Okay, here’s something new I’m going to create’, it just sounds like it’s a bit magical for you.

Kate: Well, it’s been quite fun. I mean, it definitely has its moments. I think you have to approach it with quite a lot of laughter as well, because you do find yourself in absurd situations, rushing from one niche issue to another. And I’m very lucky to have an excellent team, of largely women, who are passionate about it and very committed and also bringing levity to it. And I think we also have a constant sense of appreciation of the incredible opportunity we have to have an impact, and the responsibility of representing our community. So it’s a lot of, it is a lot of fun. It’s definitely the most demanding job I’ve ever done in my life and I think that is how it should be.

Margo: Well you’re in your prime, you may as well do it now!

Kate:  Well that’s right. But when you say you think I’m glowing, I’m pretty sure it’s the lighting on Zoom, Margo. So face to face you might see the cracks appearing. 

But I do feel like it’s an incredible opportunity to have. And I’m trying very hard to make the most of it every day and have just have approach it with optimism and hope that there are different ways of doing politics and we can feel optimistic about our future. 

And if people don’t like the way we’re doing it, then they can go back to the old way, but we want to really push the boundary on approaching it with a sense of grassroots community engagement and really giving people access to their democracy.

Margo:  Okay, one last thing. I just saw (that you spoke to) Voices for Forrest, which is a rural-regional place in the southwest of Western Australia. You told them how you did it and said that’s not gonna work for you, every (seat) is unique. And you said the start of the movement was Indi in 2013 and you really wanna get more regional representation to go with Helen. And I thought that was so far sighted because the only way this works really, in the end, is if the city and the country can do the civil conversation and work things out. So congratulations for doing that. You’re not starting a new party or anything, are you?

Kate: No, absolutely not. There are Voices groups or equivalents in various different forms in lots of different places. And I get a lot of email to my office saying, ‘How do you do it?’, or ‘I want to run, what should I do?’ And so I connect people with the Community Independent Project, but I’m very happy to support groups who are in the early stages of saying, ‘We think that there’s a different way of doing it here and we wanna find a candidate’. And so I’m very happy to share my own experience and our experience as a community of having been through that journey. 

I think it’s a positive thing for democracy, and whether it’s rural seats or outer suburban or no matter where the seats are, I think that giving people permission to think that they can be represented based purely on the values and interests of their community is really at the heart of representative democracy. 

And the party structure is an overlay to the fundamental structure of our democracy, which is people elected to represent the values and interests of their communities. Now, that’s now a radical idea, but it shouldn’t be. 

And so I think giving communities permission to explore whether there is momentum to do things differently is easy to do and so meaningful. And I think it should also have an impact on the major parties, who then have to pull their socks up a bit and realise that their voting record does actually need to reflect the values and interests of their community. And they should be accountable for that. So I think it can only do positive things for our democracy, to have more people feeling engaged and a sense of agency and ownership in our political system.

Margo:  And if you can talk politics face to face, that’s the antidote to the social media crisis, isn’t it?

Kate:  Yeah, it really helps. And I think if you talk to someone face to face who has a different perspective to you, generally they won’t be horrible to you as they will on social media. So understanding different perspectives and understanding what drives people, we need more of that. We need more civil political discourse, which is good for the whole country and really our only hope, I think.

Margo: Absolutely! Yeah! Thank you very much for giving me your time and power with purpose suits you. Thanks a million, Kate.

Kate:  Thanks so much, Margo, really great to talk to you again.


Featured image: Kate Chaney MP announcing her Private Members Bill on Restoring Trust – 7 August 2023