Can Voices for Australia be a voice for political change in the Capital Region?
Complaining about politicians is a favorite pastime of Australians, but despite the mandatory attendance on election day, very few of us are motivated to do anything more.
Amid a plethora of secure regional seats, Indi in northeast Victoria broke the mold in 2013 when incumbent Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella lost to independent Cathy McGowan after the inaugural Voices for Indi campaign. McGowan retired after two terms, to be replaced by Helen Haines in the first such succession in Australian political history.
Voices for Australia evolved from the Indian experience, and there are now a number of groups across regional Australia. They include Voices for Riverina, targeting the seat held by National MP and former Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, while there is also a campaign to oust Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor from neighbor Hume.
Critics say the groups are largely designed to remove sitting MPs, lack the permissions required by the Australian Election Commission and widely criticize federal government policy. However, Voices for Australia points out that the groups are not formally linked and that all campaigns are run by individual applicants in accordance with AEC regulations, including funding statements.
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Voices for Riverina describes itself as âa community-based, non-profit organization passionate about doing politics differently, with the goal of involving people in our communities on issues that matter to them; create a collective voice that translates into a more
Denis Ginnivan has worked with Voices for Indi for three campaigns (he is also Cathy McGowan’s brother-in-law) and resigned about 18 months ago to develop the Voices For Australia model.
He says it is a mistake to see Voices for Australia as nothing more than a mechanism to get rid of sitting coalition MPs.
âIt’s much more about improving the quality of our politics,â he says, stressing that it is up to each electoral group to decide whether they want to support a candidate or develop stronger community engagement with their current MP. .
âWe are not inclined to a revolution. We’re just creating an option for people to be heard better.
Much of this process focuses on what the Voices For Australia campaign calls ‘kitchen table conversations’, a process refined from the original Indi model where more than 500 people participated in a series of meetings on what ‘they expected from their political representative.
Voices for Australia meets by phone or Zoom with people when they make contact and discuss Indi’s lessons learned and the conversation process. A facilitator assists the participants and a report is written clarifying what each group wants to accomplish and what actions they need to take.
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Denis says the groups range from active activists to newbies with no political experience. Many reflect the city’s tree change, and he adds that while there are around four million people in regional Australia, only 100,000 of them are farmers.
âThe National Party is widely seen as having left the building, and in places like Wagga they are no longer seen as representative of a large part of the community, indeed they are seen as more closely linked to the mining industry. He said.
âThe indicator of whether someone is a decent person and has some power is their voting record in Parliament. It’s not just about being a nice person helping people across the street when they are at home in their constituency.
He thinks there has been a real shift in people’s willingness to enter into political conversations and notes that for many Indians there is a strong sense of pride in finding a candidate who is local and representative of the community. .
âThese are grassroots community campaigns, not top-down partisan politics,â says Denis.