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Indi Invasion: Cathy McGowan talks to the Ensign

Federal Member for Indi Cathy McGowan talks about her first nine months in parliament with Editor Libby Price

LIBBY PRICE July 17, 2014 3:33am

Federal Member for Indi Cathy McGowan visits new Benall Ensign Editor Libby Price


When Federal Member for Indi Cathy McGowan swept into town last week her first stop was the Ensign.

I’d met her about a decade ago when I presented the ABC’s Country Hour from Benalla at a Women in Agriculture function.

Not a lot has changed about Ms McGowan in that she still speaks 19 to the dozen and has a constant stream of consciousness with ideas, suggestions, observations. And while the community lobby that got her into power has tried to differentiate itself by changing its name to Voices for Indi, rather than the singular Voice, there is little doubt that mention Indi and the first response is ‘Cathy McGowan’.

Even though it’s nine months since the election, Ms McGowan is still campaigning. Her diary is organised with military precision. On the dot of 9.15am she arrived with minder in tow, and on the dot of 9.45am she left for the next venue, barely drawing breath.

So, what did she have to say?

‘‘The job is really hard and really challenging and uses everything I’ve ever learned and the opportunities within it to do stuff that ... has always needed to be done is just enormous.

‘‘So being the Member for Indi, being independent, not having to work within the party system, being able to take the initiative to do things.

‘‘It’s a bit like playing AFL. You get a pass and I’ve got the whole field and I can hand-pass to the Nats (The Nationals) and say, ‘Here you go guys, this is yours’ ... and they go ‘oh’ ... but often they can’t do that themselves.

‘‘That’s a bit of a surprise that there can be so much opportunity to advance those causes which are dear to my heart,’’ Ms McGowan said.

So what does the Member for Indi think of the eclectic bunch of new senators?

‘‘I’m loving it. I think it will all be okay, they’re all good people. It’s just a bit hard when you get started — you’re like a rabbit in the spotlight — but I think they’ll all settle down,’’ Ms McGowan said.

And the controversial leader of the Palmer United Party, Clive Palmer?

‘‘Good value. I sit next to him in parliament and his office is just around the corner. He’s warm and friendly. His politics are way different to mine but on a personal level he’s charming and easy to work with and he’s really clear about what he’s doing.’’

What does Ms McGowan consider to be her achievements so far?

‘‘You can pick up and champion issues: for example, people come and say that in Benalla there’s no bulk billing and I can talk about that. It’s not politics at all, it’s community service delivery.

‘‘When the (federal) budget came down a lot of people said, ‘how are you going to vote as an independent?’ And I said ‘Well, I don’t know, I’ve got to ask people.’

‘‘So then there was the budget impact tour. And within a week 750 people have got in contact with us, and people said, ‘Here’s our reaction to the budget’, so then I was able to say, ‘Here’s what the people of Indi are saying, and it’s neither here nor there what you do with it but I’m representing them’.

‘‘Then I took this report to the cross-benchers in the Senate and they took a look and said, ‘Fantastic, thank-you for that’.

‘‘The long and the short of it is I’m supporting the government, totally supporting the government’s role in managing the budget, however I say, ‘These five issues, they’re going to have a disproportionate impact on us so we would like to work with you on amending it.’ And they go, ‘Oh, that’s all good stuff’.’’

Ms McGowan didn’t really like me describing her as ‘like the Energizer battery bunny beating its little drum ad infinitum’, but she certainly seems to have endless energy and goes to the proverbial ‘opening of a lunch box’.

‘‘Eighty-five per cent of invitations that have come into the office I’ve been able to accept. Part of the job is being available to people and being around,’’ Ms McGowan said.

Make no mistake, Ms McGowan is still very much a part of the Voices for Indi who now make up an army of volunteers, taking to the streets with questionnaires and travelling with her to Canberra (indeed there are volunteers living in Canberra who billet other volunteers). Just last week volunteers opened a Voices for Indi office in Wodonga staffed by 12 volunteers.

‘‘Every week that parliament sits we have volunteers up there. No reason why we can’t get volunteers from Benalla and do columns on what it’s like,’’ Ms McGowan said.

If past history is anything to go by, independents invariably win a second term. So if you’re thinking of volunteering, there’s another five years to go.

Perhaps the current army of volunteers will become a little battle weary and new faces will be conscripted to keep up what Voices for Indi sees as ‘fighting the good fight’.

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