SO HERE WE ARE amid an explosion of the ‘Voices for’ movement as one strand of a now crowded, largely uncoordinated drive to reinvent politics on the right and, more broadly, to redefine the meaning of political representation in federal politics.
The No Fibs mission this election is to cover ‘Voices for’ community #IndependentsDay candidates on the ground, and Lesley Howard and I thought it would be useful to campaign volunteers and readers to learn about its beginnings in 2013 in the northeastern Victorian seat of Indi. I now see that campaign as the birth both of community-led independent candidates and of citizen and maybe even professional journalists reporting federal elections from the outside in, from where voters live, rather than in a top-down, on-the-bus circus controlled by the big parties – politics as theatre, journalist as reviewer of ‘the show’.
In 2019, the No Fibs mission was to cover #IndependentsDay candidates in safe Coalition seats. In NSW, Jeremy Miller in Lyne, Ted Mack in Farrer, Huw Kingston in Hume, Rob Oakeshott in Cowper, Zali Steggall in Warringah, Kerryn Phelps in Wentworth, Adam Blakester in New England and Alice Thompson in Mackellar. In Victoria, we covered Ray Kingston in Mallee and Oliver Yates in Kooyong; in South Australia, Rebekha Sharkie in Mayo; and in the ACT, Anthony Pesec’s senate campaign. I detailed our coverage in Igniting an independent backburn.
While planning my book about the 2019 #IndependentsDay campaigns – aborted when my mother was diagnosed with terminal leukaemia – I asked Lesley to write about the birth and evolution of Voices for Indi from her perspective as an outsider who had earned the trust of the group to speak freely. These people had founded the community group to find out what voters wanted from their federal member – issues and representation – before morphing into finding the right person to stand as a community independent after the then sitting MP Sophie Mirabella dismissed their Kitchen Table Conversations report.
Lesley’s essay is indispensable to understanding the process and values of the first ‘Voices for’ movement and its evolution to become the inspiration for other ‘Voices for’ groups, all of whom have adapted the model to suit local circumstances but kept the fundamental premise – a community led campaign founded on the concept of ‘being your best self’.
For my part, after seven years disconnected from online politics and in recovery from five years writing and editing reader contributions for the Sydney Morning Herald’s Webdiary the first Australian mainstream media blog, I fell in love with Twitter in late 2012. I then received funding from Macquarie University to do what I’d begged the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age to do for a decade – place journos in seats to report local campaigns on the ground (see Immersion journalism for democracy and Ready to go on @NoFibs Election13 citizen journo seat reports).
In my 1999 book Off the Rails: The Pauline Hanson Trip I’d bemoaned the on-the-bus circus of political election reporting:
“Any honest look at disillusion in the Australian political landscape has to face up to the media’s complicity – inadvertent and otherwise – in the gamesmanship of the electoral process. The leaders and the journalists are actors in a play, bound by intricate codes of etiquette and self interest. We pick their spin, they pick ours, and both sides look only at each other as journalists present our theatre reviews to an ever more disconnected public.”
My criteria was that volunteers agreed to comply with the Media Alliance Code of Ethics, including full disclosure of their party affiliation and any other fact that would inform readers of the CJ’s perspective.
Early in the campaign, a Twitter follower DM’ed me to suggest it might be interesting to report the safe Liberal seat of Indi, where an independent was running a community-led campaign. Wayne Jansson, now No Fibs’ chief reporter, answered my call.
After the election, I wrote a report detailing No Fibs’ community coverage of the Indi community campaign in partnership with local media, all of which used the hashtag #IndiVotes to keep Twitter abreast of the action in a seat largely unreported by the national media.
Inspired by the No Fibs’ Louise Hislop series on the long journey to removing Tony Abbott as the MP for Warringah, Lesley has adapted her essay and my Indi report to create two interlocking series, one on Voices for Indi and the other on the citizen journalists’ reporting of the 2013 Indi campaign. I also recommend the Indi 2013 campaign report by Cam Klose and Nick Haines, From little margins big margins grow.
It is my hope that community campaigning and community reporting of campaigns in which #IndependentsDay candidates are competing will be a feature of the next election, not an aberration; and that mainstream big media will, at last, get off the bus (leaving it to a strong AAP team to cover) to report the next election campaign from the perspective of voters on the ground, from the outside in.
I hope you enjoy my series #ReportingIndi and Lesley’s series #NewPower and find them useful in navigating the exciting and perilous experiment we now find ourselves a part of – in the cause of reinvigorating federal politics for the challenges ahead for our nation and our local communities.