Cathy McGowan AO
In 2013, a group of community leaders in north east Victoria came to a decision. It was time to address the inaction, the incompetence, and the lack of accountability existing in their federal politics.
At a deeply personal level, they were over the excuses. They believed they owed it to their young people to do something. They felt the weight and responsibility of poor politics and set about finding a representative who would reflect their community’s values.
Often referred to as “the Indi Way”, that decision led to the formation of “Voices for Indi” and a movement that has elected independent politicians in three Federal elections since then.
Something similar happened in Sydney. In Wentworth in 2018, in Warringah 2019, community action, organisation, strategy and the power of thousands of volunteers supported the election of independents Kerryn Phelps and Zali Steggall.
Where Indi has shown the way for regional Australia; Wentworth and Warringah have shown the way for the cities.
It is a growing movement and the DNA is community. Each community that seeks to become part of this movement takes those values and principles they have in common and makes the outcome their own. There’s no formal structure or party and there’s no one way of doing community politics.
Following the Getting Elected: The First National Convention for Community-minded Independents the Community Independents Project was formed in July 2021 to continue the work of the Convention.
The Project is established to help answer the questions – “Can it happen where I live?” and “What would it take for my community?” The answers lie in three equally important and necessary components: community, campaign and candidates.
Those three components form the key themes of the Community Independents Project.
Community members across Australia have spent years on school committees, community volunteering and fundraising for services such as child and aged care; we have been at the front line of service delivery. We have the knowledge and experience of real-time politics; that means getting things done, creating teams, managing egos, sorting out disputes, and building community.
We have seen the failure of government policy and what happens when integrity is lacking. We know “pork barrelling” has direct, immediate and often terrible consequences for individuals, families and community.
As daughters, sisters, aunts, parents, grandparents, and neighbours we are the ones who are called to fill the gaps. We now want something better and we see a way forward, outside the restrictions of the major parties.
If ever there was a time for community-minded independents – it is now.
It is time to think creatively about the future of our nation – about the values and attributes needed for a thriving, smart, multicultural and modern nation, free of its colonial past.
We should be thinking about what it might mean to be a Republic and consider the best form of recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
It is time for action on climate. It’s time to regroup as we emerge from the COVID pandemic and determine the role of an engaged, strong, motivated community in reinventing an Australia that strives for diversity, equality, fairness and opportunity for all.
In taking political action, my community got a better outcome, greater engagement and more effective political representation. In Indi, now, there is energy and sense of power that comes from knowing that “we did this”.
Across the country – in our cities and in our regions – other communities are sharing similar thoughts, thinking (and increasingly saying) “we want some of this” –effective community engagement in participatory democracy and a better way of doing politics.
It is no longer acceptable that unprofessional or even corrupt behaviour is dismissed without consequence. Our communities have had enough.
They want an electorate where their MP is backed by the community, engages with the community, actually represents the community and delivers effective representation.
The rise of community independence is having a tangible impact across the country. This groundswell is optimistic, engaging, and fun, but at the same time there is a sense of urgency and an understanding that the time to act is now.
It is past the time of sitting back, hoping that others will do something. It is time to turn up, speak up and step up. The outcomes are worth it. The nation needs it.