Joanna ML

Joanna ML

Joanna is a policy and procedure writer who helps organisations improve their safety and compliance practices. She's also an aspiring author and has lived on the Northern beaches since 2012. Her late husband passed away in 2018 from Motor Neurone Disease and they were famous for their positivity and advocacy for people with disabilities, with the ABC's 7.30 Report running two stories about them. Becoming a volunteer for Zali's campaign at the previous election was one of the first things she did on her own as a widow and she loved it so much she joined both the Zali and Sophie campaigns for the 2022 election.
Joanna ML

IT WAS THREE years on from that incredible night when Zali Steggall ousted Tony Abbott and the whole of Manly had erupted into a tooting of car horns and shouts of victory at the Novotel. Three years of droughts, bushfires, inaction on climate change by the government, the cries of #metoo echoing through the corridors of Federal Parliament, a mind-numbing global pandemic, and Russia as an aggressor in a war; Australia was restless for change, leadership and action.

Zali and her dedicated team had worked like bulls at the proverbial gates to represent us. And so now, as Warringah voters waited impatiently for the election date to be called, the call out to the Zali faithful came in a cheerful email. There was no Liberal candidate to run against yet, but hey, that was never going to stop Zali being prepared. Campaign on!

Wearing a brand new turquoise t-shirt for Zali Steggall, with a fabulous new slogan ‘Catch the Wave’ on the back, I made my way to my first volunteer activity for the 2022 federal election. It was a joint campaign event with Mackellar, which also was running a strong independent campaign for Dr Sophie Scamps. The event was a walk from Manly to Dee Why and I joined it at South Curl Curl on a sky-blue day, with waves gently breaking on the beach.

I arrived to find the crowd of Zali volunteers clustered around the South Curly café. I grinned – we were back! Memories flooded back of that campaign party at the Novotel but our elation that night quickly turned into despair at the prospect of another three years of inaction on climate change. It was a bittersweet night, with Zali one of the few ‘rescue flares’ of hope going up into the night sky.

Zali volunteers ambled our way to Dee Why, reconnecting with old friends and making new ones along the way, as you do at these events. The disappointment of a close friend in Mackellar, who had helped with the Alice Thompson campaign at the 2019 election, was still fresh in my mind, so I was excited to meet the new Mackellar candidate.

An independent Northern Beaches?

As a Zali volunteer, I had handed out Alice’s How-to-Vote cards at the Brookvale pre-poll booth, but it had been a tiny drizzle of an effort – not enough volunteers to cover every booth. It had been a modest campaign without the funding and hordes of volunteers needed to swing a safe seat.

An exciting thought – maybe Mackellar would follow the same pattern as Warringah? In the election before the one where Zali had toppled Abbott, a phrase that never loses its thrill in the writing, James Mathieson of Australian Idol fame had run a modest campaign in Warringah. He had shaken up the electorate, piqued our interest, won a respectable percentage of the primary vote and basically prepared the way for Zali to come in at the next election with a wave of funding and volunteers to flood the electorate.

Would it be the same for Mackellar? The quiet voice of intuition responded with a resounding yes!

An independent Northern Beaches, could it really happen?

The beaches up and down the peninsula, and either side of the Spit, are part of one large community. When COVID lockdowns split that community in half over Christmas 2020, it was a difficult time. The political divide was just as uncomfortable.

How wonderful it would be if we were also an independent Northern Beaches at the federal level. So I was beyond curious about their new candidate.

Who was this Dr Sophie Scamps?

Would she have that elusive mix of strength, charisma and intelligence necessary to swing a ‘safe’ seat? And equally important, would her volunteers have the determination and enthusiasm to push the campaign onto every street corner, every bus-stop and into every pre-poll booth, letter box and voter’s hands?

As we arrived at Dee Why at the end of the walk, Zali’s faithful warriors were greeted by a sea of sky blue t-shirts representing Dr Sophie Scamps. Check! Clearly there was enthusiasm and numbers of willing hands in abundance.

Hundreds of us milled around, turquoise t-shirts mixing with pale blue ones. Any sense of ‘been there done that, literally got the t-shirt mate!’ pride amongst the Zali volunteers was softened by nostalgia for the days when we too had a difficult opponent to topple. With no Liberal candidate in sight for Warringah, I felt myself looking rather enviously at the Sophie volunteers.

The speeches began and Zali was up first, lending her weight as an experienced Member of Parliament. It reminded me of a relay race, as she handed over the baton. And then it was Sophie Scamps’ turn to make her first speech.

“Mackellar voters have looked across the border at Warringah with envy these last few years” she shouted out across the crowd, slightly hesitant at times, but her words rose up to ride the waves. 

“It has given us hope that we can have the same thing, genuine representation at Parliament!”

We all roared in unison, encouraging her on, as the energising power of hope caught us in its energy and momentum to ride the waves of change.

One turquoise and one sky-blue t-shirt please!

Milling around having coffee later, I met my first ‘double t-shirt’ volunteer. She told me that she had t-shirts from both campaigns. When she drove over the Mackellar boundary, she put on the sky blue of Sophie, and when she drove back, the turquoise of Zali. I thought that maybe she needed to get a life, but I too did the t-shirt swap at the peak of the campaign. The trick is to wear a singlet so you can whip one t-shirt off in a carpark without raising too many eyebrows, not that anyone is looking at middle-aged women juggling flyers, car-stickers and t-shirts in a carpark on a Saturday morning.

As we chatted I discovered that quite a few of my ‘Zali’ friends were actually Mackellar voters. I had not realised how many Mackellar voters had helped Zali to win at the last election. Now they were excited to finally have a strong campaign to get involved in where they lived. I was grateful to each one for having helped Zali and thought maybe I could return the favour.

At that stage, though, I just wanted to support Sophie’s campaign financially, so a few weeks later I booked into the ‘Ocean film festival’ fund-raising event at Mona Vale and dragged along a couple of Mackellar voters with me.

To my amazement Sophie was right there at the entrance to the cinema, so approachable and friendly. It felt good to be able to introduce her to my friends with that glorious phrase, ‘Meet your independent candidate for Mackellar’ and then they promptly told Sophie they would vote for her. What a buzz – I had just flipped my first votes!

Ocean Film Festival movie – fundraising for #MackellarVotes 2022: Photo supplied

Dr Sophie was clearly now a seasoned speaker who knew her campaign inside and out. Her speech after the film was powerful and direct, with a natural sense of timing. One of the other speakers said that on election night the count was expected to go down to the wire, with possibly just a few hundred votes between her and the incumbent.

I was horrified. Here was a candidate in with a chance but she might lose because of a few hundred votes. What could I do to help?

I bought myself a Sophie t-shirt on the spot and joined the campaign. 

You can go on to read part two of this series here

A word from Margo: No Fibs has history with #MackellarVotes – we covered Alice Thompson’s #IndependentsDay campaign in 2019, where she paved the way for Dr Sophie Scamps, as James Mathieson did for Zali at the 2016 election. I’m thrilled to publish Jo’s account of her volunteer adventure with Sophie in #MackellarVotes and with Zali in #WarringahVotes. It shows how voters in the adjoining North Shore seats worked together, and details a volunteer’s eye view of how the campaign worked and why it was different to Warringah’s, which No Fibs also covered in 2019. And of course there’s Louise Hislop, who became a campaign manager for Zali in 2019, worked in her electorate office, then moved to Mackellar, where she teamed up with an old friend, Leonie Scarlett on Sophie’s campaign team.  Louise wrote her story in a seven part series on No Fibs called #WinningofWarringah and said there was a winning Mackellar vibe in the under-radar seat in a mid-campaign #transitzone podcast. #Transitzone did the first interview with Sophie in October 2021 when, as a member of Mackellar Rising, she was seeking a candidate and did not intend to run. We published Sophie’s launch speech and collated a live Twtter launch report. Her volunteer coordinator Leonie Scarlett wrote an account of her journey, as did volunteers Paul Boland, Julie Donald, Michael Osbourne, Joy Nason, Jan Proudfoot, Beth Jessup. Flan Cleary collated his emails to Irish friend on his volunteer adventure, and Marita Macrae, Kerry Smith and Margaret Woods teamed up for a joint contribution.  Jo’s series is a very valuable, information packed, addition. Thank you Jo, and more Mackellar volunteer stories are welcome!