Cathy McGowan’s Win Shows Positive Politics Is Possible


Cam Klose shares his experience from on the Cathy McGowan campaign trail.

On a freezing cold night in Wangaratta hundreds of people came from all over the electorate of Indi – from Yackandandah to Yea, Tallangatta to Tungamah – to watch the election results unfold.

The once-sleepy division of Indi was transformed at the last election, when Independent MP Cathy McGowan won the seat from Sophie Mirabella; and last Saturday, Cathy showed once again that Australians want to engage in a politics that is positive and hopeful.

Indi offers an antidote to a national political scene that is increasingly fractured, partisan and apathetic.

Clad almost exclusively in orange, the McGowan supporters relaxed as early booth results showed huge swings to Cathy from 2013 results. Once one of the most marginal seats in the country, Indi is now a comfortably Independent seat.

Saturday’s result was a repudiation of the negative party politics perpetrated by Sophie Mirabella, and shows that there is an alternative way to do politics. A way that is respectful, effective and brings the community together, rather than playing segments off against one another.

By 9:30 the results from Wodonga pre-poll came through. Equating to just over 10 per cent of the total vote, Cathy beat Sophie Mirabella 55 to 45 per cent, and the result looked assured. Cathy decided to call it.

The result showed that 2013 was not a fluke. It demonstrated that voters were willing to vote for values and integrity, even if it means they don’t necessarily agree entirely with all of the candidate’s policies.

“We have done something absolutely amazing,” Cathy said in acknowledging her win. “We brought a community together and have worked together across the geography that is Indi. We have made Indi into a tribe.”

In an age of cynical politics, Cathy McGowan proves that you can be effective and have electoral success without resorting to scapegoating or negative campaigns. Indeed, a relentlessly negative campaign from the Liberal Party and Sophie Mirabella had very little impact on swinging voters.

(IMAGE: Cam Klose.)
(IMAGE: Cam Klose.)

“This election result demonstrated that people want a local representative who will put them first and above party politics. People want positive politics. If you keep to your values and keep positive, the people will respond and you can win,” Cathy said in her victory speech.

This was a message that seems to have been completely missed by the Liberal Party in their attempt to regain the seat. The foundation of Cathy’s campaign was from the community. It ran off donations from 2154 individual donors, and involved more than 1000 coreflutes being distributed. It was powered by more than 600 local volunteers who knocked doors, knitted scarves, manned polling booths.

And more than anything, it was kept positive and fun the whole way through.

The ‘keep the seat orange’ campaign saw orange seats sporadically popping up all over the electorate. And when the Liberals started running negative smear campaigns, the McGowan team ran full page ads in local papers with the names of prominent local supporters, emphasising the grassroots support for Cathy.

The result in Indi is by no means a surprise, but media outlets have struggled to come to terms with it.

The Australian complained she was backed by ‘green activists’, unable to comprehend that Cathy’s position on marriage equality, climate change, renewable energy are decent centrist positions. Hence why she harvested a diverse mix of votes from ex-ALP, Liberal, Green and National voters.

In an era when political expediency often comes above values, and the major parties are finding an increasingly apathetic and hostile electorate, Cathy’s victory in this election shows there is another way to do politics.

It doesn’t have to be based on fear, division and reductive slogans: In many cases, the electorate is actually crying out to be treated like adults.

Cam Klose studied journalism at RMIT. He has worked in San Francisco, and is currently working in communications with a climate non-profit.