Lesley Howard

Lesley Howard

Citizen Journalist at No Fibs
After shouting at the television for many years Lesley decided participation was the best antidote to cynicism. She has a keen interest in supporting sound environmental social practice, communities and democracy in action. Lesley has a Masters of Science, Applied Statistics.
Lesley Howard
Lesley graduated from the University of Melbourne with dual majors in Statistics and History and Philosophy of Science. The combination of the two fields formed a strong background in objective research, critical appraisal and the analysis of relationships, and in assessment and reporting. With this skill base she has variously consulted for an Australian timber company analysing the unloading of logs in Chinese ports, reported on the role of SMEs in Defence, critically analysed scientific papers, designed and advised on surveys and sampling for various private and government groups, and reviewed and advised on research proposals as a member of the Royal Melbourne Hospital’s MHREC. Lesley has a keen interest in supporting sound environmental social practice, communities and democracy in action. She is currently completing a Masters of Science, Applied Statistics.
In part 5 of #NewPower Voices for Indi talked democracy and ethics and helped keep the seat Orange, and the Liberal Party showed they had not learnt from past mistakes. Consequently it repeated them.

WITH THE POSSIBILITY that Cathy McGowan may retire at the end of her second term and without any apparent evolution in the political style of the Liberal Party in Indi, V4i once again became interim custodians of the political rail of the ladder.

To not do so could see Indi returned to being a political backwater.

In consultation with hundreds of Orange supporters V4i designed an innovative candidate identification process which literally embodied the philosophy that those who are affected by a decision have a right to be involved in the decision-making process. Aspiring independent community candidates did not have to be previously associated with V4i or the Orange supporters but must be registered to vote in Indi.

Unlike a political party pre-selection, V4i members did not participate in the decision-making process but simply facilitated the forum for the community.

“The aim of the process is to reach a consensus decision that identifies a person the Orange supporters can enthusiastically agree to invite to be their next independent Orange candidate for Indi.”

Voices for Indi

While a successful candidate would have the offer of Orange campaign infrastructure they were not required to accept it. It was a triumvirate of trust. V4i trusted to the process, the community trusted the integrity of the candidate and the candidate trusted the community to back them.

Making history

On January 12, 2019 after many hours 240 members of the community unanimously selected Dr Helen Haines from a panel of three as the independent candidate they would support should Cathy McGowan choose to not run in the up-coming election.

On January 14 Cathy McGowan announced she would not stand at the next election and would ‘hand the baton on to Helen Haines:

“We have achieved a great deal in Indi but the work is ongoing. It is essential that at the next election the community continues to demand effective, local representation and hold their next MP to account. I have run just one leg of this relay and the baton I pass on carries a precious legacy for this region’s future.”

On May 18 Helen Haines made history winning the seat of Indi as the first independent MP to follow another independent MP, and her win confirmed to the wider Australian electorate that a values-based way of doing politics was more than a personality driven aberration.

We are not a political party

Since the 2013 election there have been mutterings from the media and from members of some of the political parties competing in the Indi space that V4i were operating as a political party. These mutterings hit peak outcry in January 2019 during the V4i facilitated candidate identification process. What was implied in the commentary was that V4i was in some way being deceptive by refusing to define itself as such but the commentators failed to identify what advantage this gave to V4I or for that matter the community selected candidate.

V4i is political but structurally they are not a party and philosophically they are so much more. It takes very little research to determine that V4i is not a party in the governance sense of the word nor by law is it required to be.

“We are not a political party – we are seeking improved community engagement and representation in the electorate. In Indi’s case, genuine and effective community engagement has informed a new way of doing politics.”

Voices for Indi

Post the 2019 election, the comments about V4I’s status are still ongoing.

Keeper of the process

The vision and values that came out of those meetings back in August 2012 continue to drive V4i to this day. The participatory democracy ladder was a unique view of how two approaches could run side by side neither to the exclusion of the other. Conceptualisation of the ladder set up a lot of the V4I trademark practices from the very start and key to achieving its vision was adherence to its core values and returning to the community for direction.

Effectively the values were the governance structure, disciplining its actions and decisions and ensuring the transparency and honesty of those actions.

The Six Thinking Hats process not only helped V4i define the vision and the values, it defined a way of being and working together that was non hierarchical and inclusive and ultimately led to its ability to incorporate and harness the potential of all comers. The core values provides the framework to build and maintain trust and the collective helps to keep the individual on track when tempted to waver.

Later this process would allowed V4i to expand and contract the community base as circumstances required. As long as people adhered to the fundamental value system the many or the few could work in parallel effectively and creatively. This was clearly demonstrated throughout the candidate identification process in early 2019. However, the ability to work in parallel is also a discipline and is hard work.

V4I essentially is the keeper of the process but not the owner. Ownership of process is what political parties do.

Beyond Indi

At its inception V4i had focussed on reinvigorating political representation and building participatory democracy in Indi, but right from those beginning days one of its aims was to become a case study for ‘grass roots’ community engagement. Post the 2013 election the people who attended the Benalla Reflections forum affirmed they wanted the “V4i model to be used in other electorates around Australia” and V4i had broadened its focus and activities to include growing participatory democracy beyond Indi.

One of those activities included running a two day hands-on workshop in 2018 “designed to provide prospective candidates with enhanced skills and knowledge to get elected”. The event attracted people from many electorates, including Warringah.

The election of Helen Haines confirmed the sustainability of the ‘Indi Way’ of doing politics and Zali Steggall’s win validated that the Indi model could be successfully built on in a way that worked for Warringah.

“The ‘Voices for Indi’ movement has given inspiration to other electorates around the nation modelling new democratic norms. In a growing number of democracies across the world we are seeing the impact of an erosion of trust in democratic institutions. Disengagement from politics is being exploited into fear and polarisation. In Indi there is a different story. Division and polarisation are not the inevitable outcome of disengagement; it can be channelled productively. This election has shown that this model, though time consuming and labour intensive, has staying power.”

Helen Haines, Member for Indi: first speech to parliament, 2019

Post the 2019 election we saw the ‘sports rorts’ saga unfold and heard the linguistic twists and turns of the government as it changed its rhetoric with each published revelation. Over the term of this 46th parliament issues of integrity, equity, rights and representation have come to the fore.

Frustration with the political process is growing and communities across Australia, taking courage from Indi and Warringah and looking to become active in their own democracy, are forming their own ‘Voices’ group. Past members and present members of V4i, Cathy McGowan and many quiet others fielded months of requests for information, advice and connection. While heartened to see other communities taking inspiration from Indi, V4i upheld that as a community group its primary focus was on building participatory democracy within Indi.

“Voices for Indi would like to emphasise that the use of ‘Voices for’ by other groups does not indicate a formal link with, or endorsement by, V4i. There is no franchise in place and any group using the ‘Voices for’ tag has chosen to do so quite separately to V4i.”

Voices for Indi

More ways than one

While some ‘Voices’ groups formed with the express intention of seeking a community independent candidate, many began like the original Voice for Indi members – asking themselves the question, is there a want for change within their electorate? In almost all cases the ’Voices’ groups sought the answer by engaging with and listening to the voices of their communities. That many of the ‘Voices’ groups have progressed to fielding an independent community candidate comes out of a strong foundation of community engagement and courage.

Media has focussed much of its attention on the emergence of independent candidates in high-profile inner-city seats in Sydney and to a lesser degree Melbourne. But the ‘Voices’ movement goes well beyond these electorates both geographically and philosophically.

The ‘Voices’ movement did not spring from a single source and as with V4i it is more than a sum of the collective inputs of the many, many people who have contributed their insights and experiences to the groups along the way. A common feature of all these groups of committed and capable people is that like sponges they have absorbed not just the detail but the stories that knitted the details into actions – not only did they want to learn they learnt how to listen.

It is quite possible that without the many and various conversations with the collective of contributors over months and months there would be no ‘Voices’ movement because many groups would not have progressed without the support, the courage and the tools these conversations gave them.
Cathy McGowan, told The Saturday Paper that:

“… across Australia voters in over 20 once-safe Coalition seats are reassessing their vote, and integrity is the core issue… It’s about courage. In these blue-ribbon, safe Coalition seats… communities are now exercising their courage muscle and calling on their MPs to do the same.”

Your vote is your voice (Photo: Wayne Jansson)

The participatory democracy story has now moved beyond the boundaries of Indi. Communities are displaying agency, harnessing the power generated when people truly listen and people are truly heard – they are writing their own stories. And each ‘Voices’ group has fashioned their own pathway whether they have aligned with a candidate or not. 

There is no one model and more ways than one.

Whether you are someone who has contributed time to a ‘Voices’ group or have been part of a kitchen table conversation, whether you are a volunteer or a ‘Voices’ member, a writer, a reader or an independent candidate we all have a spot on the participatory democracy ladder.

“The parties seem to polarise on almost every issue, sometimes seemingly just for the sake of it, and I wonder whether the ordinary voter is not becoming sick and tired of the vested interests which unduly influence the present political parties and yearn for the emergence of a third political force, representing middle of the road policies which would owe allegiance to no outside pressure group.

Perhaps it may be the right time to test that proposition.”

Don Chipp – resigning from the Liberal Party – March, 1977

In case you missed them – part 1 can be read here, part 2 here, part 3 here, part 4 here and part 5 here

Featured photo: @jansant