We Are Hughes caught up with Denis Ginnivan from Indi.
Indi is the only federal electorate in Australia where one independent has succeeded another.
Denis shared with us how Indi changed the political landscape from disillusion to engagement. Introducing the Indi Way.
After announcing our meeting with Denis we filled to capacity after 3 days. It is clear we are creating a space for people who are after an inclusive and participatory style of politics.
Denis explained Indi was a formerly safe conservative seat held by Sophie Mirabella. In 2013 Indi elected their first independent, Cathy McGowan. Cathy was elected again with an increased margin in 2016. Announcing her retirement in 2019 another independent candidate was sought, this time Dr Helen Haines was selected, she too won. Indi made history as the only federal electorate where one independent has succeeded another
So how and why did Indi Change? Denis explained he, like others, was feeling increasingly uncomfortable with how he was was represented. The tipping point was in 2012 when he found himself “yelling at the TV” with his daughter watching on. He decided to set an example that was beyond yelling at inanimate objects. He was aware of others locally who were feeling the same. They formed a group to raise awareness, Voices 4 Indi (V4i) was born. Understanding the positions and views of people in Indi was key to finding their voice. Hearing those voices was the simple and elegant process of talking in informal gatherings or “Kitchen Table Conversations” as they are known. The Kitchen Table Conversation model of community engagement had been initially developed by the Victorian Women’s Trust, and adapted for Voices for Indi’s purposes.. Over 400 constituents of Indi were part of these conversations.
"The interests of the giant corporations and the mining industry are well articulated and lobbied. For various reasons, our representatives listen assiduously to them. But who speaks for the future welfare and wellbeing of our children? We need to invest in both kitchen table conversations and community organising to restore some balance to the political equation."
Photo: Cathy McGowen in conversation
KITCHEN TABLE CONVERSATION (KTC) STRUCTURE The KTC structure used in Indi is simple and effective. Up to ten participants gather at a home or in public space. These are socially enjoyable discussions which allow participants to share their views. A facilitator asks the questions and ensures everyone is heard, a scribe records the responses The questions are conversational and not confronting, for example:
What do you enjoy about living in the electorate?
What are your concerns and Issues?
Do you feel represented and what could improve your representation?
An example of feedback was “no one has ever listened to me before”. There were also profound times when participants arrived with firm views only to have them turned around when meeting with people they may have judged harshly previously. Importantly the content of the conversations is collected and used to create a report. An example of the report can be found at https://voicesforindi.com/about/reports/ The report is made available to all candidates to enable them to hear the voices of the electorate.
After Denis spoke the floor was opened for questions and comments. One attendee expressed exhaustion with our polarized political landscape. The sentiment was shared by many. Denis responded in Indi they achieved unity. Indi managed the baiting from both politicians and the media by having a common sense of purpose and an aligned message.
Q - How do you move the electorate from the Voices 4 Indi document to an electoral win? The people involved in the KTCs talked to people, they talked to more people and so on. V4i built engagement and trust with the electorate. V4i then publicly sought expressions of interest from people who wanted to be considered to stand as an ‘endorsed’ community candidate in the 2013 federal election. The rest, as they say, is history.
Q. How are issues that are split evenly handled by an independent? A: In Indi the elected member shares decision on voting and communicates the decisions with electorate
ED: an example is Helen Haines MP recent discussion on Cashless Welfare Card explaining how she arrived at her decision - here in 2019 and again recently in a Facebook video post
Q – Is there evidence of improvement for the electorate?
Some examples of engagement and improvements are:
Cathy McGowan introduced the first Integrity Bill.
Cathy McGowen worked with all local governments to develop an Indi wide mobile tower application strategy. They then successfully got the third highest electorate allocation of towers in the country.
The Indi electorate now draws on relevant expertise from the community on policy development.
In Indi citizens have the chance to go to Canberra for a week to work and understand the workings of government.
Indi now has 14 separate environment groups
Note : Helen Haines has recently introduced the Australian Federal Integrity Commission Bill. In response the government also introduced a bill. They are vastly different in approach and outcomes. There are links to the bill and a comparison between the government's proposal and Helen's bill at the end of this post. "Barrister and director of the Centre for Public Integrity, Geoffrey Watson, described it (the governments' bill - Ed.) as a "sham". "It is designed to cover up corruption, not expose it," Mr Watson said. " quote from the Canberra Times November 03 2020
Q – how do you engage younger people? Georgia Ginnivan (Denis’s daughter ) spoke about being generally disengaged from politics prior to The V4i initiatives. The engagement process changed her outlook and involvement. To engage younger voters Cathy McGowen got together young leaders and specifically asked what they thought. Young people were involved in KTCs The young Indi expats (a reference to Indi youth who move away for university) shared technology and social media skills, there was knowledge exchange across generations. A comment from the floor reinforced the value, strength and intelligence of our young community, noting that Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousufzai are two of the most influential people globally. There is a need to ensure young people have a voice and something to fight for. It is recognised three generations need each other to make this work. Volunteers in the Cathy McGowan campaign could be creative and use their own initiatives to promote Cathy so long as they kept to the values of the Indi Campaign. A campaign supporter came up with the wonderful idea of putting a few sheep wearing Cathy McGowan campaign t-shirts into a crate on the back of her farm truck. It was parked it in supermarkets and kids coming out with their parents wanted to get close to the sheep. It lead to great conversations with the parents! WHAT'S NEXT FOR HUGHES and KTCs? It is now time for us in Hughes to have our own voice heard federally.
We will being rolling out our kitchen table conversations in early 2021. We are having training for those that have made contact after the meeting to get involved in initial start up sessions. We will then be asking you to join the conversations and help us spread the word either as facilitators or hosts.
We are also going to trial our electronic version of the KTCs questionnaire, which attendees tested on the night. Gathering this information will be in the form of face to face surveys, either among friends or in public places.
SHAMELESS CLICK BAIT
The image of the dog in the jacket is a fake! We do not have dog coats - but we have now had three requests for them. The spectacle of a sheep in a Cathy Jacket makes us think that dog coats are a good idea, if it fits your sheep or llama even better. Let us know if you think this is something you are interested in.
In the mean time, head over to the shop and get yourself some spiffing We Are Hughes merchandise in time for Christmas. Shop
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Further reading Voices 4 Indi Cathy McGowan's website Helen Haines MP Australian Federal Integrity Commission Bill 2020 Democracy Indi Style (article)