The Indi Way

I’m a storyteller, and in many ways an accidental politician. How I interpret what we’re doing – what we call the Indi Way – frequently changes.

The Indi Way grew out of a desire to represent the young people from my electorate who initially pushed me into standing. They said, “We want to come back to live in the country but the mobile phones don’t work, trains are infrequent and no one listens to our concerns.” I had a real sense that they were right. Even though I knew it to be true, in the past I had organised my life around the deficit. But when I heard these young people say the country was so bad, I realised that someone had to step up. I listed every reason why it shouldn’t be me and even if it should, why it couldn’t be now. But they convinced me with truisms like “if not you, who… if not now, when?”.

I listed every reason why it shouldn’t be me and even if it should, why it couldn’t be now. But they convinced me with truisms like “if not you, who… if not now, when?”.

I became particularly interested in the views of young Australians following the 2020 Summit that Kevin Rudd convened in 2008. There were about 1,000 invitees with a handful from Northern Victoria, including me. The 2020 Summit had a profound effect on me in many ways. The first few presenters at the opening session in the Great Hall of Parliament House were a diverse group in their early twenties. I listened, as collectively they created a vision for a modern Australia. Their wonderful speeches described the type of country they wanted to live in. I could immediately sense that my electorate was missing out on all their brilliance. When I returned from the summit, I made a personal resolution that I would get to know more young people. I was an older adult who perhaps had been patronising toward them. I began working seriously at finding ways to bring them into my sphere of influence, so I could be exposed to their insights and benefit from their knowledge.

I started with my nieces and nephews. I hosted dinner parties and built relationships and got to hear what they were thinking about the world. I opened up my consulting business; partnering with, and learning from, two fantastic young women. Soon after, I was contacted and asked to stand for federal parliament. It was an opportunity to do more of what I had been doing. I hadn’t believed an independent could win the seat of Indi, but they were so enthusiastic that I thought “just maybe”.

The call to action was coupled with the obvious opportunity to engage those young people, and many others, in politics. In decision making in our own neck of the woods as well as the federal politics of Canberra, to influence how our community functions. The more that young people become engaged, the more our communities will have longevity. The Indi Way is about engagement, and the benefits that come from that engagement. Indi had been a safe seat for a long time, so we were basically forgotten. Members of Parliament could get elected but then cruise through their term. Because of the non-compete agreement between the National Party and Liberal Party, whoever had the seat effectively had it for life. They believed they didn’t need to work with the community, whereas when there’s competition between the two major parties, or in this case an independent, everyone has to work!

Getting elected wasn’t going to solve every problem. Together, the community and I engaged heavily on the things that mattered; education, aged care, climate change.

The North East Local Learning and Employment (LLEN) Executive Officer and two of her board members spent four days in our volunteer program in Canberra where they were able to meet the minister for Vocational Education and Skills, Karen Andrews. As a result, the minister came to the region for two days and participated in a whole range of activities. Getting the right person to Canberra at the right time creates a multiplier effect, enabling necessary work to progress.

That’s the Indi Way.

We had a similar result on aged care. One of the specialists from my electorate went to a function on my behalf and met the Minister for Aged Care, Ken Wyatt. He then visited Wangaratta to see aged care best practice in action.

That’s the Indi Way.

It’s hard to change the world. My attention is on my own backyard, because that’s the place where I’ve got the most influence.

The young people of Yackandandah are worried about global warming and were agitating about what the government could do. I told them that government is not going to solve that problem and suggested that we pay attention to what we can control. They began learning about ‘transition towns’, and set up a group called ‘Totally Renewable Yackandandah’ with the aim of the whole community, about 700 people, being self-sufficient in sustainable energy by 2022. They’ve since partnered with Ausnet Services to install a mini-grid, connecting groups of houses to distributed solar power.

That’s the Indi Way; as a community, we can do it.

It’s hard to change the world. My attention is on my own backyard, because that’s the place where I’ve got the most influence. We’re paying attention to our own needs instead of telling the world what they should be doing, because that’s a big enough job. We do care about the rest of the world. We’re citizens of the world but we’re not trying to change the world. We concentrate on our own circle of control and try to make that work.

During the 2016 election it became clear to me that the Indi Way was something very exciting. In 2013, we had a deliberate campaign to get people engaged, to at least ensure a competitive seat. The second election was different to that because the community was saying “we love having you there, now how can we get involved?”. We responded by creating community hubs in rented houses and shopfronts right across the electorate. The hubs became amazingly energetic places. Stuff began to happen. There was a group of men and women calling themselves the Indi-makers. Firstly, they made flags because we wanted flags at every election post. And then they started making buttons and earrings and sewing things. There were cups of tea, cakes and soup.

I’d never seen such a level of engagement. In some ways it wasn’t anything to do with politics, it was everything to do with belonging and connecting…

Out the back, there were blokes making A-Frames. The hubs became places for conversation and debate about what I’d done and what I was going to do. Around eighty per cent of the people participating hadn’t previously been involved in politics. It was people meeting people of like mind for discussions on important topics that hadn’t previously had a forum. I’d never seen such a level of engagement. In some ways it wasn’t anything to do with politics, it was everything to do with belonging and connecting and having an opportunity to contribute together. But then again, that is politics.

Throughout my life, I’d been interested in political issues, but none of the major parties had been right for me. If I’d been able to find a party that represented me, I probably would have joined it and become active. But I never found one that represented the modern, sophisticated people who live in rural and regional Australia. I was running an international consulting firm yet I couldn’t get the phones to work. I’ve run my own business. I know how to organise, how to make money and build support. I’d won contracts and got the work done. It’s great being a rural woman who is competent, who knows how to represent the community. I’m an independent person as well as an independent politician. It was going to be hard for me to become a third level person in a political party that didn’t represent me in the first place. I wanted to do things my own way. I’m independent of mind like many rural people who don’t fit into an existing political box. There are very few people that I know in rural Australia that are totally aligned with the Liberal Party’s urban, limited government philosophy. Most rural people want government to intervene and invest in infrastructure. Equally, Labor, with its heavy union focus, doesn’t have strong regional policies. And then you have the Nationals who don’t even believe in climate change. They’re far too conservative to represent my electorate. For many people in rural and regional Australia, there hasn’t been a political ideology that represents them.

Key to representing the people of North East Victoria is some type of consensus on a 21st century policy that is reflective of the reality of most of regional Australia. To that end I’ve worked with the Prime Minister to set up an enquiry into Regional Development and Decentralisation. My hope is that this enquiry will lead to bipartisan support for a regional development architecture and how we might use the government and private enterprise to achieve it.

We’re developing in people a sense that they belong, creating engaged communities that look after each other. Government is not the answer.

The Indi Way is organic. We have an actively engaged electorate with lots of people doing lots of stuff, connecting with members of parliament and creating networks that help them. We’re developing in people a sense that they belong, creating engaged communities that look after each other. Government is not the answer. It provides a safety net. But, we can see how frustrating it is if you design your whole life around social security. It’s not a good approach. It takes enormous skill for communities to work, which we still have in the country. But at the fringes you’re getting a sense that communities are breaking down with mental illness, suicide, drugs and gambling. Part of our work is to help people to engage in worthwhile activity that’s meaningful for their communities and themselves. Our community hubs enable people to build rich, meaningful relationships, creating a multitude of connections that are more impactful than I alone could ever be. That’s how the Indi Way will evolve.

We will keep finding mechanisms to build engagement. Getting me elected was just one mechanism. The work that Yackandandah is doing is another mechanism for getting people engaged as are the North East Learning Links. I am sure that in building these networks we’re creating a platform that will enable other people to find ways of connecting and solving problems yet to be thought of.

The Indi Way is nothing unusual. It’s actually how politics is supposed to work. What we’re really doing is putting it into place in the 21st century. Traditionally the parties have branches, but for me as an independent, the whole electorate is my branch. There’s too much work to be done by one office, so I empower locals to do work for themselves and we create the operating environment to help them along. As well as working for me as a political representative, it works in the community itself and it’s growing. The confidence and courage to actually step up and be part of your community is the art and practice of the Indi Way.

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