Chasing involved democracy in Indi: @Indigocathy v @SMirabellaMP

Cathy Mcgowan

Cathy Mcgowan


Margo: Cambell Klose has volunteered to do media for Cathy Mcgowan, a community candidate challenging Sophie Mirabella in the safe Liberal seat of Indi at the federal election. His piece is the 4th in our series on new political activists. Those of you who read Not Happy, John! know that grassroots democracy is very close to my heart, and if a resident of Indi would like to report Indi democracy in action from now till election day I’d be delighted to hear from you.


By Cambell Klose

10 June, 2013

For as long as I can remember my electorate of Indi has been a safe Liberal seat. Before Sophie Mirabella became the candidate Lou Lieberman attracted a vast majority of the vote. He was well respected in the community and had a strong presence in the electorate.

In 2001 he retired and Sophie Mirabella replaced him. I was still too young to really have much of an opinion about her, but I do remember that a certain level of dissatisfaction began to grow over the years. I moved to Melbourne and changed my electorate and for the past 5 years haven’t really thought at all about my Indi, except to occasionally cringe with embarrassment when I saw footage of Sophie Mirabella being ejected from parliament, or read articles about why she chose to boycott parliament the day Kevin Rudd gave his apology speech to the Stolen Generation.

I started really thinking about my electorate again while I was living in the US last year. I was travelling through Ohio on my bike during the penultimate month of the 2012 presidential campaign and was privy to the attention lavished on so-called ‘swing states’. The attention Ohio received because both candidates were competing heavily for it seemed inexhaustible. According to an NBC News analysis 55% of all the money spent during the previous election campaign in the US was spent in the swing states of Florida, Ohio and Virginia.

Because Indi has been such a safe seat for so long there has been a lack of political discussion in the region, with voters votes being taken for granted. On top of that there is a strong feeling the electorate has suffered because money is being distributed to the more marginal seats.

Enter a group of people who decided they wanted a change. While the rest of the country has been embroiled in the negative and destructive parliamentary antics, a small collection of individuals began a grassroots community group called  ‘Voice for Indi’ with the intention to foster and inspire positive political debate across the electorate.

What ensued were a series of Kitchen Table Conversations with over 400 people participating over several months. These kitchen table conversations happened all over Indi, from yoga classes to people camping in the woods.

I took part in one in Melbourne with some Indi ‘ex-pats’ and it snowballed from there. In an election cycle characterised by negativity and national issues that I felt so far removed from, I felt inspired to be a part of a grassroots group empowering people to have a voice again.

All the information collected from the 53 Kitchen Table Conversations was compiled and put into a Voice for Indi document. I attended the launch of the document, and at the launch we announced that Voice for Indi back an independent, Cathy McGowan, to take on the incumbent at the upcoming election.



McGowan was an obvious choice. She was born and raised in Northeast Victoria and is a well-known and respected in the community. She was also an active member of Voice for Indi from its inception.

Aside from being a local farmer and businesswoman, Cathy has an Order of Australia under her belt for services to the community and is a life member of Australian Women in Agriculture.

She says it was her experiences living and working in the community that compelled her to contest the seat.

“I don’t believe that the taxpayers of Indi receive the same level of services or allocation of resources as people in more marginal electorates such as Bendigo and Ballarat. I believe that the votes of the people in the electorate of Indi are taken for granted and as a result, the people who live in the electorate are disadvantaged.”

Cathy developed her passion for grassroots democracy while working with rural women in India and Papua New Guinea and realising how important it is for people to have a voice. Though Indi is a long way from the Mountains of Papua New Guinea or the plains of India, McGowan believes the residents of Indi deserve better and aims to get their voices heard at a national level.

Armed with the information garnered from the Kitchen Table Conversations and years of experience working closely with businesses and councils, her objective is to bring sharper focus to the issues affecting the electorate.

“For me what’s really important is that the people of Indi have a choice — that’s what they’ve been asking for. Everyone deserves to have their voice heard, whether they are a farmer, a business person, or a single parent. I want to focus on the issues that are actually affecting this electorate.”

Cathy’s campaign strategy is centred around this ethos.

“Politics can sometimes seem so far away for people. How can what’s happening in Canberra affect a farmer in Central Victoria? What I want to do is let individuals and communities know that they have a voice and that they can make a difference.”

She says she is inspired by Margaret Mead’s quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Cathy and her supporters are on a mission to let Sophie Mirabella know that she can’t take the people of Indi for granted, one town at a time.

“I may be an independent in political terms, but with the community behind me, I’m far from going at it alone.”



Conclusion to Introduction in Still Not Happy, John!

‘Stephanie Dowrick says, ‘We will never achieve what we can’t imagine, so what are we hoping for?’ What I’m hoping for hasn’t changed. In my dreams I imagine ordinary Australians getting together to back strong, intelligent, trustworthy, independent-minded candidates, to put some wind up the big-brand parties.

‘I imagine democratic politics as an honourable vocation, not the grubby career that John Winston Howard seems so determined to bequeath as his political legacy. I imagine ethics and honesty and decency restored to mainstream debate. I imagine real people standing on real principle. I imagine party politicians prepared to step off the party line when it offends their core beliefs or when it betrays the welfare of the people who put them there.

‘And I imagine transparency. Trust. Civic duty and sacrifice. Truth. Humility. Humanity.’



Read more in our series on new political activists:

1. The genesis of @ch150ch gaffe list

2. Why I’ll letter-box my suburb to keep Abbott out

3. A letter on our future from an activist elder

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  1. I live, in a small rural town near Seymour. Yet every election we get so many political ads all day long from S.Mirabella. How on earth, does she have the money to pay for the ads it is incredible what they would cost.
    Love the idea of the Kitchen Table Conversations great idea. All the best for your hard work.

    • Tony Grant says

      Maybe the money from the “old bloke” whose house she acquired? The old Greeks like Plato/Socrates would be rolling in their graves!

  2. Joy Cooper says

    What fantastic ideas the Voice for Indi & the Kitchen Table Conversations are. There must be much disquiet within the electorate, about the standard of representation they currently have, for these movements to have eventuated.

    Cathy McGowan appears to be eminently qualified to represent the best interests of the people of Indi & I wish her well. She will have much thrown at her from the vested interests of the current member for Indi so she will need all the support she can get but I’m sure Cambell Klose will be aware of this.

    The incumbents in so-called safe seats can become lazy & self-indulgent, as those of us who have resided in such seats are all too aware of. Time for a change, methinks.

  3. How fabulous! Reminds me of the political party set up in a novel I read by Earnest Callenbach “Ecotopia Emerging”…About time someone stood up to Sophia Mirabella. She is one of the most despicable members of a very disturbing Opposition Front Bench. Wishing Cathy McGowan and her team every success in her wonderful endeavour to raise the standard of politics and parlimentary representation in this country.

  4. Margot Morrison says

    My first contact with Sophia Mirabella, an email two weeks ago & I am still waiting for acknowledgement . Doesn’t impress .

  5. techinbris says

    OMG! I do hope that Cathy own some good ear muffs. Imagine having to share the room with the toxic mouth of Sophie Mirabella. I’d rather sit on Mt Kosciusko in the nude today, for one hour, than spend another 30 seconds listening to anything further from Sophie the Toxic.
    Make waves and change the Nation Cathy! Go for it girl! Show them what a decent Australian can do. We already have seen what Sophie does, and it not very encouraging.

  6. Good luck. What an admirable effort which I hope brings great success.

  7. Good luck! I too live in a Liberal stronghold and little has been done in my electorate for years. So wrong! Get into govt enjoy the good life and do nothing except sprout off about how bad the other side is!

  8. Mick Webster says

    Well its all very good but lets face it Sophie will win, as the Libs have for ever in Indi. Wouldnt we be better spending our political energy working for either Labor or Greens to win the vital seats in the Senate to ensure Abbott never comes to power? Indi will never go to an Independent unless you have a conservative who becomes slightly caring a la Oakeshott and Windsor…

    • joy cooper says

      Well, that is a defeatist attitude, Mick. The seat I live in was a rusted on Nationals’ seat with not a thing done for the area the whole time they were in government with the Libs. We were taken for granted, then Janelle Saffin put her hand up &, won the seat for Labor. The difference has been amazing.

      Voters should shake themselves out of their lethargy & vote in the best interests for their community & the country, not just vote the way they have believed they should because that’s how it has “always been”. The only has been in Indi is Sophie Mirabella. Cefinitely time for a change.

  9. Robert Lappin says

    At the 2010 election my younger brother, Alan Lappin, ran as an Independent candidate for Indi.

    A small farmer and former business man, Alan achieved 6% of the primary vote on a shoestring budget. First up he gained many insights into the brutal reality of cut-throat political behaviour. He was stunned at the manner in which Liberal Party banners covered nearly all of the available space outside election booths and that it was in place so early that morning. He was even more shocked when he was made to remove a sign posted adjacent to the Hume Highway even though Sophie Mirabella had multiple signs and was not required to remove them.

    Sadly since the 2010 Election the media has all but silenced him; most of his comments never see the light of day and recent television commentary never even named him as a candidate at the forthcoming election.

    Please be assured that Alan Lappin will be a 100% independent candidate and that he has already undertaken to participate in the public forums being organised to enable people to listen to and to query them. In contrast people should note that following her relatively poor performances in those forums in 2010, that Sophie Mirabella has this far publicly refused to participate in those forums.

    Tony Abbott’s responses to Margo Kingston in relation to those travel claims were arrogant and condescending; not all that different really to Mirabella’s refusal to participate in public forums in her very own seat of Indi.

  10. Xena Warrior Princess says

    Lucky Indi! They have an opportunity to be represented by a quality candidate, Cathy McGowan rather than the POISONOUS PIXIE.