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

You can read part one here and part two here

SOME VOLUNTEERS FELT uneasy in the last week of the campaign – what if Sophie didn’t win? In 2019 Zali’s volunteers had also been unsure she would win so I compared the feel of the two campaigns. There were stand-out similarities – the tidal wave of enthusiastic volunteers, the optimistic tone and the positive campaign. 

But Sophie’s team were more in the trenches. They knocked on doors, plastered campaign posters onto their cars, approached voters in the street, rang voters at home and put-up corflutes in pretty much any place they could think of. Mackellar was a harder electorate to swing, so the campaign was more relentless. It needed to be. 

I wasn’t brave enough for the campaign phone-ins, but I did nervously volunteer for door-knocking. My first attempt was on a dull rainy day which had not deterred the volunteers, who arrived with umbrellas and rain-jackets. I was paired up with an experienced chap, Paul Murphy. 

We knocked on the dreaded first door, and I dutifully followed his lead. “Have you heard of Dr Sophie Scamps?” A redundant question at that stage, unless they’d been living under a rock onto which a corflute could not be staple-gunned!

“What issues matter most to you at this election?”

Most people were friendly, others gleeful at the opportunity to argue their points and a rare few were downright hostile. One woman, in front of her pre-teen daughter, denied climate change existed and refused to engage. I looked at the daughter, she looked at me. I wondered what it felt like for children to see their future on the planet being stolen whilst their parents denied it was even happening.

“Listening is all well and good,” I said to Paul after a friendly but awkward silence at one door, “but if they have nothing to say but are friendly then that’s our chance to sail on in and tell them about Sophie.” 

Paul conceded I was right, so whenever there was an awkward pause I’d respond with “Do you know why Sophie decided to run for Parliament?”. Her inspiring story helped people relax and open up. Paul and I made a good team.

I noticed another similarity with Zali’s 2019 campaign while handing out ‘How to Votes’ as we stood over the walkway at Brookvale Pre-Poll trying to engage with an election-weary stream of commuters. The ratio of people happily accepting Sophie’s how to vote cards was the same as in Zali’s 2019 campaign – a majority. And this time, Sophie’s team had so many volunteers at the Brookvale booth that they equalled Zali volunteers, seriously impressive given that Brookvale wasn’t even in Sophie’s electorate. 

One dark wet windy night at the pre-poll at Warriewood for Sophie, a rare moment of solidarity amongst the volunteers for all the campaigns. Wind and rain was clearly deterring voters from voting in the ‘graveyard shift’, as an experienced Greens volunteer called it. But when a voter did arrive, we were all so busy chatting amongst ourselves and shivering that he slipped into the polling booth unnoticed by anyone. 

Election day moments

On a beautiful sunny election day none of us expected Mackellar to be the first independent seat called that night.

There were two memorable election day moments for me. I was standing at one of the polling booth entrances, when a volunteer for another party goaded me, suggesting that Sophie’s volunteers were paid. She seemed genuinely shocked when I insisted that none of us were. I later recognised her in photos; she was the wife of one of the candidates. 

And then there was the silently weeping voter, a young woman who had lined up to vote as her husband left her alone to get coffees. She was shuffling along by herself, sobbing silently. I was on the other side of the street but could no longer just stand there and watch, no one was helping her. 

I crossed the road and approached her. She turned tear-filled eyes to me, something truly terrible had obviously just happened to her, maybe a loss in the family. I gave her a ‘Sophie hug’ and softly said ‘just breathe’ to her, before silently returning to my post. 

We all need the friendliness that Sophie’s campaign embodied. I think that’s often what voters responded to with the volunteers, the fact that we genuinely cared and were interested in what mattered to them, in the same way that Sophie did.

A two horse race

I dashed home for a power nap mid-afternoon, before heading back out to scrutineer. The polling booth at Cromer was a huge high school, and it was pitch black as we waited outside for the electorate officials to invite us in. I confess to flapping around a bit at that point when it dawned on me that I was supposed to send in the booth tallies to the campaign office. I had no idea how we were supposed to get that information. 

My fellow Sophie volunteer and I shuffled nervously into the hall. It was her first time as a scrutineer, and I was suddenly feeling woefully unprepared. There was only one other scrutineer from the Liberal party, very different to the Brookvale booth at the last election, where there were scrutineers from all the major parties. 

Whilst not as big as the Brookvale booth, it was friendlier and more relaxed. The electorate officer in charge immediately put us at ease, beckoning us both towards him. “Remember to watch your opponent’s votes, that’s more important.”

AEC counting HoR votes – Attribution: Australian Electoral Commission, CC BY 3.0

It quickly became apparent that it was a two-horse race, Sophie and the incumbent. When all the primary votes had been separated into candidate piles, they then counted the primary votes for all candidates. This was done by separating them into batches of fifty made up of five batches of ten. 

It was at this stage that I spotted a serious error. I was watching an electorate officer counting his batches of ten, but was that eleven? I watched him count the next batch, and again I was sure he had counted eleven. This time I called it, “Challenge”. Is all you are allowed to say. 

 “I am sure he’s counting eleven” I said nervously. The supervisor came over, they counted again, and again I thought it was eleven, but again, the electorate officer said it was ten. I let it go, what else could I do? But to my amazement, when they tallied up all the votes from the booth they were missing 20 votes. Yes, that guy had counted multiple batches of eleven! It was reassuring to see that the system picked up the error. 

The electoral officers had been working since 8am and it was 8pm at night, men and women who had put their hands up to help at a time when the electoral commission was struggling to find staff. They were all heroes in my eyes, and if they made mistakes that’s why we were there as scrutineers. There was a sense of teamwork, everyone watching each other’s backs.

My worries about not being able to work out the primary totals were unfounded. The electoral officers went out of their way to make sure we knew what the primaries were, and we eagerly photographed our tally sheet and sent it back to a totally submerged guy at the campaign office who had no hope of keeping up with all the images of tally sheets coming in from increasingly excited scrutineers. 

Then we watched the preferences being counted. If the number against Sophie’s name was a higher number than the one placed against the incumbent’s, it was placed on her pile. I was amazed at the different flows that went Sophie’s way: Clearly most people make up their own minds.

Dr Sophie Scamps scrutineer tally sheet

Then wonders of wonders, Sophie won the booth! My fellow volunteer and I jumped around together and whooped softly in the storeroom where all the chairs were kept, conscious that this was our moment, and not anyone else’s in the room. The other volunteer said she would never forget sharing that moment with me, as she was not able to go to the campaign party. 

Party time

As I got into my car my daughter rang from an election party in the city. She was in tears, drunk and celebrating! She is in her late twenties and her whole generation had seen ten years of inaction on climate change, their future dissolving before their eyes. She said there were celebratory election parties all over the city. 

I walked into a sea of pale blue t-shirts at Dee Why RSL, excitement bouncing off the walls. With my scrutineering sheet in my hand, I ran down to the front after spotting Kamahl sitting there with a companion looking a bit lonely and hugged him. “Sophie won Cromer!” I yelled. 

At the #MackellarVotes election night party: Photo supplied

I spotted my good friend who’d been so despondent when Alice Thompson hadn’t won at the last election. One day when I was door-knocking at Elanora Heights, I had driven along Powderworks Road and spotted his ute covered in Sophie’s campaign material. I had not heard from him though, as we had met through a grief group and he had faded from my life in the past year.

I tapped him on the shoulder and he turned around. His reaction was priceless, he just exploded in joy and we threw our arms around each other. I flapped my scrutineering sheet around to show him the preference flows to Sophie. Then, to my amazement, the big screen gave Sophie the lead.

“The Northern Beaches are independent!” I shouted. We threw our arms around each other again. Perfect moments come along rarely in life. We had met during a time of grief; how wonderful it was to share that moment of pure joy instead.

We had done it, our wonderful Sophie had nailed it, every single one of us had done our bit and proven that change is truly possible when individuals make the decision to act. What a night, what an election, one we will never forget. Sophie’s belief that we could win was the eco-friendly energy source, electrifying the entire campaign. 

And that night, I noticed one final difference between the two campaigns, Sophie’s volunteers knew how to party!

Much later I found myself sitting right next to Sophie and her campaign team.

“When I entered the ballroom,” Sophie confided to us around the table, “I heard a great roar go up from the crowd and I wondered what had happened on the news, I didn’t realise it was because of me.”

Sophie Scamps

A few weeks later

After the euphoria of Dr Sophie Scamps winning Mackellar, and of course Zali comfortably retaining Warringah, Sophie volunteers were rather at a loss to know what to do with themselves. In a follow up phone call with Kamahl, I suggested to him that it was time for another song about the environment. 

Kamahl boomed at me, in his great big voice, “Why don’t you write me a song!”. “But I’ve never written a song,” I said meekly. “You just need to write a poem!” he boomed again. 

So I took up the challenge and tried to capture the inspiration behind Sophie’s campaign. These are the lyrics that I wrote, if anyone wants to set music to it, please do get in touch.


Our Future


What have you done?
The children all cry
To our planet, our home
to the earth, wind and sky.
What have you done?
To the forests and trees
To the rivers and oceans
To the birds and the bees.
No more time for excuses
No more time for delay
We want our future back
And we want it today.
What were you thinking?
In your moments of greed
When you took for yourselves
what was there for our needs. 
Where was your anger?
For the passion, the fight
When you still had the time
To do what was right.
No more time for excuses
No more time for delay
We want our future back
And we want it today.
What were you doing?
With your plastic, your waste
In your disposable days
And your self-centred haste.
And generations past
Hung their heads in shame
At the mess and destruction
Left behind in their name.
What have you done?
The children all cry
To our planet, our home
to the earth, wind and sky.
No more time for excuses
No more time for delay
We want our future back
And we want it today.


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!