WHY DID I get involved? I voted for Bill Hayden in Oxley in 1972 to help Gough Whitlam become PM and have voted Labor or the Greens ever since. So why help independent candidate Suzie Holt, who is indubitably of Liberal heritage?
My primary motivation was disillusionment with parties and disappointment in the Liberals under Morrison, particularly the disdain he showed for probity in public administration and the inability of his government to take action to deal effectively with climate change. However, along the way I developed an admiration for Suzie as a thoroughly decent person who sincerely cares for the community and, most importantly, listens to the ordinary citizen.
I became a member of Voices of Groom well before the election campaign began, and was present at the meeting where the members chose Suzie as its candidate.
Before active campaigning began we gathered information to assess what the community wanted. A community-based philosophy was fundamental to the campaign strategy and remains front and centre in the ongoing campaign.
You betcha there’s an ongoing campaign!
Nothing ventured, nothing gained
At the election Suzie took a sizable chunk out of the incumbent LNP member’s margin – about nine percent. This was a commendable effort since a rival independent candidate also took about seven percent of the LNP vote. The combined independent vote provides a sound foundation to build on at the next election round.
When the election campaign came to life in March and April volunteers began getting Suzie’s name and face out in front of the electorate. We attended farmers’ markets, waved posters by the roadside and circulated in the community at functions such as Politics in the Pub and kitchen table meetings.
We faced a mountain of Himalayan proportions in Groom since it was the Coalition’s second safest seat with a margin of more than 20 percent at the previous election. We faced this task with enthusiasm and high spirits; one experienced political campaigner told me that he had never seen a team work so well together. I made many friends among the volunteers in Team Suzie.
Volunteer tasks that we undertook included placing corflute posters, door knocking and attending events in which candidates interacted with community groups. We planted corflutes throughout the electorate from Bowenville in the west to Greenmount down south, Rangeville and East Toowoomba and as far as Goombungee to the north.
Team Suzie was fast off the mark and had most of the corflutes distributed a day after the election date was announced – ahead of all the other candidates. Patrolling the corflutes to replace those that met with misfortune – through malevolent action or the effects of weather – was an ongoing duty through the campaign, and after the election collecting all those corflutes was a daunting task.
Door knocking was one task that gave volunteers an opportunity to meet citizens and engage with them. I found this duty generally enjoyable. The most common opinion I garnered from the people I met was disillusionment and disgust at the state of politics. Many expressed their desire for politics to be conducted with civility and without the dishonesty they saw in the actions of the Morrison Government. The record of sports rorts, the station car park fiasco and Morrison’s refusal to legislate a federal integrity commission upset many people.
Not all people welcomed us knocking on their door, but the people who absolutely refused to listen would have been one or two in a hundred. One I recall with some fondness was an elderly gentleman who told me:
“You should have more sense at your age. This has always been a conservative electorate and you won’t change it”.
We had a talk in which I suggested that if we don’t try then nothing will change. His opinion that I was an old fool did not change as far as I could tell, but he grudgingly agreed that nothing ventured means nothing gained.
The father of the inland rail project
The highlight of the community events that I attended was in Pittsworth, a meeting at which we discussed the inland rail project. One of our speakers, and an enthusiastic supporter for Suzie’s campaign, was Everald Compton. Everald is an elder statesman known as the father of the inland rail, having proposed the project to John Howard in 1996.
However, the contemporary $15 billion project bears little resemblance to his original proposal. The route from Melbourne to Brisbane is not what was intended when Everald was involved. Unfortunately, the current incarnation of inland rail has not been properly negotiated with landowners in its path, and dissatisfaction in the Millmerran, Pittsworth and Gowrie areas is intense.
At this meeting I admired Suzie’s interaction with the community group and her support for their aspirations to see a fundamental review of the inland rail project.
I enjoyed volunteering to support Suzie’s candidacy
In this chapter the final activity that I participated in was handing out how to vote cards at pre-poll booths. Suzie did not recommend how voters gave their preference; her how to vote cards were Vote 1 Suzie Holt with the other seven boxes marked with a question mark to remind people they must put a number in every square. At the booths I found many people prepared to take one of Suzie’s cards. They also accepted cards from other candidates, but few refused to entertain the thought of voting for an independent.
I had a long-standing commitment out of town on Saturday 21 May so I missed handing out on election day and I missed my democracy sausage. Fortuitously I also missed the post-election party that turned out to be a COVID-19 super spreader event. Most volunteers, and Suzie herself, came down with COVID immediately after the election but no one got seriously ill. A small price to pay for a wonderful journey in which Suzie established herself as a credible candidate for the next election.
I look forward to continuing this ride in coming years so that Groom will no longer be taken for granted by the LNP. They have a fight on their hands with the community getting behind a candidate who puts people before parties and who listens to what the community wants.
Featured image: #GroomVotes wife and husband team, Suzie Holt and Miles Brodie – from Twitter
No Fibs coverage of #GroomVotes
- #transitzone podcast and transcript of Suzie Holt interview before she stood as a candidate – “Really shake it up and be heard”: Suzie Holt’s drinks-party-first approach to winning #GroomVotes
- Citizen journo Jamie Quinn report – Hope for change in #GroomVotes: Jamie Quinn on the breakthrough democracy forum in Toowoomba
- Jamie Quinn’s campaign launch report – Suzie Holt launches her vision to grow #GroomVotes together
- #transitzone pre-election podcast – Meet Suzie Holt, again, independent candidate for #GroomVotes
- Volunteer Mary Connole-Bevan’s story – Facebook’s Queen for Suzie Holt at #GroomVotes