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The silver lining of the Australian Election

Written By: - Date published: 12:23 pm, September 14th, 2013 - 11 comments
Categories: australian politics - Tags: , , ,

Cathy Mcgowan

For progressives the recent Australian election was a relative disaster.  It was not as bad as it was predicted to be, and this may explain Kevin Rudd’s rather jubilant concession speech on election night, but nevertheless Labor lost over 20 MPs from the House of Representatives and the Green vote declined.  Tony Abbott has a solid majority and as long as he can negotiate the complexities thrown up by the Senate result then he will have control of Government.

There is potentially one very good result however.  In the rural seat of Indi, a large sprawling seat comprising of mountains, valleys and small towns, there is the making of a boilover.  Liberal front bencher Sophie Mirabella is currently behind on the count and may have lost her seat to previously unknown Cathy McGowan.  The seat is historically a conservative stronghold and to lose the seat in an election where there was a conservative surge is almost unheard of.

Although not finally determined and although there is a possibility of a recount McGowan has expressed to admitting to an outbreak of hope.  She is not claiming victory yet.  The count encountered some drama when a bundle of 1,003 McGowan votes not taken into account in the initial vote were discovered.  She is currently ahead by less than a thousand.  Last election Mirabella won by over 16,000 votes after the counting of preferences.

It appears that Mirabella was not well liked and from what I have read justifiably not.  According to the Herald Mirabella had done the following:

She likened Julia Gillard to Colonel Muammar Gadaffi in 2011, saying both were “delusional”, and poked fun at Gillard’s childlessness.

She also called for Muslim girls to be banned from wearing headscarves at school. The retiring independent MP, Tony Windsor, known for his generosity of spirit, recently called Mirabella the “nastiest” person in politics, and the person he would miss least.

The likely winner, Cathy McGowan, has good liberal credentials.  She is comfortable with same-sex marriage, urges compassion for refugees and wants the creaking train service fixed.  She is however in favour of free trade and calls small business “the heart and soul of Australia”.

The campaign will obviously attract attention.  Virginia Trioli in the Western Review has provided some background.

The “Voice for Indi” independent campaign is a fascinating paradox, and may well become the playbook for any independent political candidate around the country. It was a true grassroots campaign founded on an unsentimental business model. “V for I”, as it’s known, didn’t even start life as a political quest: “We didn’t know what it was at first: a community organisation? A lobby group?,” says Susan Benedyka, founding member and managing director of the Regional Development Company.

Fed up with what they saw as Mirabella’s poor representation of their electorate, a group of 12 local figures formed an incorporated association in July last year, wrote up a set of core values and started asking the community about the issues that mattered to them. Locals told them trains, broadband, mental health, jobs for their kids were the key issues. Kitchen conversations were held in towns across the electorate. The group then took their concerns to Mirabella, who held the seat by a margin of 9 per cent.

“She gave us 11 minutes, and told us ‘No, I know my electorate, and the issues are the cost of living and stopping the boats’,” says Benedyka.

This may have been the moment that radicalised the group. They knew they had to take the seat off her. Leading community figures were approached to run, formal interviews were held and McGowan got the job. Volunteers came out of the woodwork. They had to sign and uphold the statement of core values (respect, evidence-based work only) No one was to be disrespectful or insulting of Mirabella: she was only ever referred to as the sitting member or the incumbent. As the campaign continued, some volunteers abandoned the Greens to come on board, and by voting day, volunteers numbered 600.

With only enough money for one mail drop, the campaign used community contacts, face-to-face meetings and social media – run by the younger members of the team – to reach a large and disparate community. Social media was described as “crucial” in the campaign. The team drew upon the theories of Marshall Ganz, the Harvard alumnus and pioneer of grassroots political organising, to persuade voters of a need for change.

Her use of a nationbuilder website and enhanced use of social media will attract some attention.  In my view NZ Labour could improve its handling of social media and the Cathy McGowan experience can provide some learning on the subject as well as providing a textbook example of how to handle a campaign in a conservative area.

11 comments on “The silver lining of the Australian Election ”

  1. Sable 1

    This reminds me of a photo where one person refuses to salute Hitler in a sea of raised arms. Nice gesture but……

  2. tc 2

    howards liberal seat in sydney was taken by labors maxine mckew so these things happen.

    IMO its an indication of how close both parties are being centrist but candidates personalities play a bigger role, look at clive palmer as an example of the cult of personality winning through as hes effectively been spurned by the liberals.

    The election was more about a country sick of labor infighting, neither promised the serious reform needed. Labor gets its act together with some serious reformist policies and it could return next election but it needs a cleanout.

  3. burt 3

    A bit like NZ the Labour government rooted the economy simply by adding hundreds of regulations and distortions to the tax and benefit system such that …. the country is pretty much broke trying to keep the failure of a socialist government popular enough to stay in power. How surprising…

    6 years of Liberal government and the economy will be going gang-busters again… then the punters will have forgotten again how much of a failure socialism is and they will be convinced to give it just one more try for the 37th time.

    The real issue in all of this, because the flip flop of right v left is pretty much the political norm driven by dim-bulp partisans with short memories – is that the Liberal government will rape and pillage the land again. One day – perhaps in an alternate universe, the Labour and the Green party will stop trying to out promise each other offering unsustainable bribes and form a coalition…. one day….

    • mickysavage 3.1

      But Burt the Australian economy is by far the best performing economy since the global financial crisis. It did not go into recession. Its current debt level is the envy of the rest of the world.

      So where is the evidence that the Australian economy has been wrecked?

    • tc 3.2

      Funny man burt, oz has a massive amount of rules and legislation across state and federal, ask any nz business operating in oz.

      Labor and liberal are similar in policy and action, geez man try and construct a reasonably plausible position. ‘..failure of a socialist govt…’ come on try harder, we expect better from a leading troll like you.

  4. coge 4

    Sophie was her own worst enemy. It was clearly a case of the candidate, in my observation, to go against the tide so badly. Low hanging fruit perhaps.

  5. GregJ 5

    My older sister lives in this Division (Electorate or Seat) – she was in despair at the General Election Result (High School Science Teacher so with some justification) but she is holding on for a McGowan victory as at least some consolation. Even some of my sister’s Liberal (i.e.conservative) colleagues are hoping Mirabella will be defeated – she represents the most vile, racist aspects of the Right in Australia.

  6. Jenny 6

    What do you know?
    What does it tell about modern elections?
    That social media is important. (Obama also proved this)
    That ‘Social Issues’ like public transport, and inclusivity matter. That right wing appeals to exclusion and race baiting should be always responded to on principal rather opportunist accommodation. Where Rudd and Gillard, (and Clark) fell down.
    That middle class relatively well off people do not always vote right and are open to appeals based on principal, and common sense. Hone Harawira has shown this with his feed the kids campaign, which has garnered support from some unlikely even prominent previously National Party supporters.

    This gives me hope.

    All polls show that 60% of New Zealanders want the government to do more on climate change. This is an untapped constituency. It is also the policy direction on which the government is weakest. And on which some heavy blows could be landed on them. IMHO, any mainstream candidate that stands up to the big oil and coal and roading lobby and dares raise this issue in a principled way by appealing to people’s better instincts, will do well.

  7. tricledrown 7

    72%want labour green nz first housing policy!

  8. Yay! Sophie Mirabella lost.

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