Reflections on a unique campaign: Greens candidate @JennyJenocon on #Indivotes


King Valley – Photo by Wayne Jansson

By Jenny O’Connor,

16 September, 2013

The campaign is over and we are waiting for the result in what has turned out to be the most interesting election in the nation. At the time of writing Cathy leads by 544 votes with 2000 to count. My result as the Greens candidate has been decimated – from almost 10% in 2010 to just over three percent.

Greens and Labor voters came out in force to support Cathy Mcgowan win the battle to unseat Sophie Mirabella. Despite the low vote I did get to play a pivotal role in the campaign so the Greens message has been heard loud and clear in Indi, and all sides of politics have come together to put Indi on the political map and to change forever the idea that there is a ‘safe’ seat in Australian politics.

Grassroots engagement with community is a key pillar of the Greens ethos, alongside peace and non-violent negotiation, environmental sustainability, and social justice.

These key platforms have been embodied in the Voice 4Indi Movement and the ensuing campaign to get Cathy elected, and so it was entirely appropriate that the Greens preference team agreed with my request to preference Cathy at number two rather than run an open ticket as was initially planned – despite the fact that there was no reciprocal deal from the McGowan camp.

I believed that supporting their campaign was the ethical thing to do, and I understood that Cathy needed to run an open ticket to maximise her chances of getting votes from across the political spectrum.

The campaign itself was like no other that I have been involved in. Having stood at State, Federal and local government elections I am pretty accustomed to the usual practices of trying to get media coverage where possible, policy releases, campaign launches and one or two public forums where the party faithful and candidate supporters attend and not much is gained.

This campaign was totally different.

Six public forums were organised by a range of interest groups around the electorate including Women’s Health Services, the CWA, the Victorian Farmers Federation, Charles Sturt University, the Trades and Labour Council and a public forum broadcast live on radio. These were all well attended with standing room only and the engagement was clear – questions fired at all of the candidates, with tempers running high at times in the audience, and occasionally the candidates.

My fiery responses to Sophie’s position on climate change and asylum seekers were broadcast across the electorate and I am still getting emails and comments from people who enjoyed the passion in the debate.

Cathy played it pretty safe in these forums although she was challenged repeatedly about her allegiance with the parties – Greens, Labor or Nationals depending on who was asking. Her focus was always on local issues: broadband, mobile black spots and the notoriously unreliable VLine train service.

She declared her support for marriage equality but did not have a clear position on reducing carbon emissions or preventing offshore processing of asylum seekers, opting for a self evident “we need a bipartisan approach ” position.

For a policy-focussed person like me this was frustrating, and I was initially surprised that it really didn’t seem to matter to people who I know have strong views on these issues, but they said that Cathy was a decent person and they trusted she would make the right call if she was elected.

It was clear that the main game was to unseat Sophie Mirabella, which people rightly believed was much more likely to be achieved by a locally based Independent candidate than Greens or Labor.

Cathy and her team did not engage in this discussion publicly, but it was clearly the sentiment of many of her supporters.

Prepolling and Election Day were a real challenge for my campaign. It is always a struggle to get enough people to cover all the polling booths and two weeks of prepolling added an enormous burden – made all the more difficult with the all too frequent response of “sorry, I’m handing out for Cathy ” to a request to the usual volunteers.

I have to admit that there were times when I did feel discouraged – these were personal friends and long-time supporters who seemed to be deserting my campaign in droves, and there were several awkward encounters with friends who felt they needed to let me know they were gong to support Cathy.

I spent a lot of time reassuring people that I understood and trying not to show my personal disappointment, however you shouldn’t get into this game if you can’t take the heat, so I accepted the reality that I was going to take a substantial hit, that this was not a personal reflection on me, and that supporting Cathy to get elected was indeed in the interests of Indi. And I got on with it.

The young McGowan Team members – some of whom were usually Green voters – embraced me enthusiastically, and I found myself in the strange position of being both Cathy’s political adversary but also developing great relationships with her team.

In the public debates I challenged Sophie openly whilst Cathy maintained a more neutral position. As one voter commented – a Good cop/ Bad Cop approach. This was not intentional, but our different styles probably combined to allow this to be played out.

The rest is the stuff of political history – and perhaps a great movie script.

Indi people voted against the trend of the entire nation and decided to remove Sophie Mirabella. The Greens and Labor vote was decimated as our voters supported Cathy, but the Left vote was never going to be enough and a substantial portion of her support came from disaffected conservative voters.

This has been a truly uniting outcome from across the political spectrum. The long serving National member Ken Jasper and I found ourselves on the same side, as did many unhappy Liberals I know.

It will be interesting to see how Cathy represents such opposing ideas when it comes to voting on policy and I suspect this is one of many challenges she will face in the Parliament if she wins the seat.

For the rest of us the lessons are clear – there is no such thing as a Safe Seat. Members of Parliament are elected by their local people, and they forget this at their peril.

And for the political parties, the battle for Indi is a reminder that political engagement does not take place only through the media and the letterbox – connection and relationship are what matters.

This can happen between people with differing ideas and opinions but with the unifying hope for a better way for their community.

No Fibs interview with Jenny

Jenny comment

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  1. Nice wrap up Jenny, great to read such a candid response from a candidate. I’d be interested to read Cathy’s response to some of your assertions, to fill out the picture. Indi has been fabulous to watch – I can only imagine what it must have been like to be in the thick of it. All the best.

  2. Jenny O'Connor says

    Typo: republic debate meant to be Public debate :)

  3. A New Day in Indi says

    I have admired your honesty and forthright opinion’s for some time now Jenny. Regardless of the final outcome for the seat of Indi you have played your part and played it well.

    Don’t be despondent, keep on fighting for what you believe in. We need people like you in our part of the world!

    • Jenny O'Connor says

      I really appreciate your supportive comments – thanks for your encouragement . Not sure what is next, but I’m not done yet :)

  4. Other seats also bucked the trend. And for similar reasons.

  5. Karen Wright says

    Jenny O’Connor was my best friend in kindergarten and, from my home here in Adam Bandt’s seat, I’m happy to see we still have a fair bit of common ground! Well done Jenny.

    • Jenny O'Connor says

      Hi there Karen! seems we have developed similar values over the years .. Very clear memories of those early times when we were kids!

  6. Ruth Lipscombe Innisfail Qld says

    Well said Stephanie Dale although some of Jenny’s comments COULD have been seen as self serving.

    • Michael Bink says

      Ruth, having worked with Jenny on her campaign I can assure you this is exactly how it played out. And I heard a number of Cathy’s supporters say the same thing to her throughout and after the election. Jenny was the first candidate to preference Cathy, setting the trend for others, and her performance in the forums was phenomenal – again something repeated to me by many people on all sides of the political spectrum.

  7. Great summary Jenny. The election wasn’t all about local issues there was some simply saying Sophie must go and many knew neither Greens nor Labor would do it in this rather conservative electorate. That’s why they supported Cathy, Too bad for Jenny and the Greens, great candidate, great policies, demonised up here in Indi (for not voting with the Liberals against the carbon tax). Whatever happened to the democratic right to choose?Too bad, for as I see it the Greens are the only party with a full spectrum of worthwhile social justice and environmental policies. But like Jenny I am hoping Cathy can work with the cross section of supporters and as Cathy stated on ABC radio “be true to herself”. From what I can see she is kind and caring – and organised. One can only wish her well.

    • Jenny O'Connor says

      Thanks Greg – I have no doubt Cathy will represent Indi with sincerity and a genuine intention to do what is best for the electorate. She is an impressive person, and was in the best position to bring about a change of representation. An amazing election and it was great to be part of it.

  8. Jenny….prior to this election, I’ll be honest….I didn’t know you but how you handled the election process, your tweets, your support of Cathy despite knowing it was a huge hit you and others running were taking. I honestly believe this will open up Indi for the 2016 election. People here are listening and engaging for the first time…well ever. I would love to spend some time with you prior to the next election (so any time in the next 3 years LOL) to discuss The Greens policies for rural areas. I know of no farmer who does not believe in Soil Conservation, who has not noticed Climate Change or is not worried about Water Allocations.

    I think with the right approach. who knows next time you run you may just get a look in…as Cathy has proven…all things are possible. In the meantime, let me say you are a class act and I’ve really enjoyed our 140 character interactions :)

    • Jenny O'Connor says

      Thanks so much Jackie – it has been a privilege to be involved in such an historic campaign. The best part has been the connections and relationships formed – even in the cyber world :)