Penelope Lilford

Penelope Lilford

Penelope Lilford migrated to Australia from Zimbabwe twenty years ago. She’s lived in four States and called Toowoomba home for the last nine years. She has four children, three of whom study in Canberra, and a partner who works away from home during the week. Penny is a student support officer for a scholarship organisation for First Nations’ students at boarding school always looking for ways for students coming from afar to Toowoomba for an education to thrive in our community. Her Twitter handle is @LilfordPenelope
Penelope Lilford

If human rights and diverse communities are to be valued and celebrated, then less power needs to sit with those whose privileges blinker their outlook. This is why I volunteered for independent candidate Suzie Holt in the electorate of Groom. 

Here in Groom, all levels of politics – local, state and federal – have had a certain type of person holding political power for too long. This has been to the detriment of many, leading to a laissez faire attitude in federal elections, one concerned primarily with preserving a status quo steeped in a history which has favoured Christian, Caucasian, conservative male colonialists. 

Moving to this region after living in different Australian states and different countries, this favouring of a certain section of society became clearer to me with each passing year. 

My conversations with Suzie Holt over the last few years clarified the hard work of many in our community and country to affect much-needed change, hard work often stymied by Federal politicians, leaving little to show for those forming the backbone of compassionate community work. 

The treatment of the Nadesalingam family saw us hold a Toowoomba vigil, along with others across the country, to show our anguish at a family being put on a plane in the middle of the night. This display of force was again a stark contrast to the beliefs of many in our community working with refugees and asylum seekers. But little changed – the Medivac Bill was repealed and the LNP wasted millions opening the Christmas Island detention centre. Labor refused to state they would end offshore detention. 

Meanwhile Groom had a “fly-in” candidate in the 2020 by-election, a Caucasian male who spoke the language of a conservative, Christian colonialist and whose voting record confirms this. The March for Justice highlighted that any change promised to women was as hollow as the language used. Nothing happened. Words, words, words, if that. 

I began studying at this time, and learnt that this penchant for portraying things as solvable yet not doing the hard graft runs deep. It has been thirty years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and deaths continue. It has been five years since the Royal Commission and Board of Inquiry into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory and yet the rates of imprisonment are as high as ever. The Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility still stands at ten years old. The Royal Commission into Aged Care (2018) has not seen its recommendations implemented.

Social housing is at an all-time low, with fires and floods leaving many still in tents and cars. Climate change remains something whose very existence is still debated in Groom political circles. This narrow view means Groom is missing out when we could instead be leading the way in creating opportunities for our local economy to thrive. 

Voices of Groom and Suzie Holt for #GroomVotes – Photo: Penelope Lilford

So where, in all this turmoil, was a voice of reason?  Where was the will to create societal change, putting human rights first?  

The establishment of the “Voices of Groom’ group saw an opportunity to begin such conversations across our community, conversations with people who no longer believed the two-party political system was working. Instead, it was a system which bulldozed voters into party dogma and used hollow language to make empty promises.

From these community voices came two candidates, both of whom debated their beliefs in how things could change. The group chose Suzie Holt. By endorsing her as an Independent, the “Voices of Groom” group gave her a mandate to speak on their behalf. The other candidate chose to continue her own trajectory but for me, it made complete sense to join Suzie as a volunteer, as her hard work, passion, commitment, integrity and ability to navigate across Groom’s political divides saw her win the candidates’ debate hands down. 

I can wax lyrical, as I have done above, about human rights and transformational change but without skin in the game I am not creating the society I wish existed. And what a team of people I joined! People from all walks of life, often putting their ideologies or interests aside to plan the best way of implementing strategies which would create the change our conversations had highlighted. was so desperately needed. 


Featured photo: Suzie Holt for #GroomVotes – Forum with Everald Compton, Cathy McGowan, Kerry O’Brien


No Fibs coverage of #GroomVotes