From little things, big things grow: the inside story of the Voices for Indi movement

Posted on 25 Jul 2023

By Denis Ginnivan

Denis Ginnivan holding Voices of Indi book

From its early days as a grassroots movement that helped launch the political career of independent MP Cathy McGowan in 2013, Voices for Indi has evolved into a template for democratic change. Community campaigner Denis Ginnivan was among those there at the very beginning. As one of the 12 authors of The Indi Way, here he provides fascinating insights into the movement's rise.

The 2022 election surge of community independent representatives in the federal parliament surprised many around the nation.

This outcome has a long back-story, which has been captured in Voices for Indi’s recently published book, The Indi Way.

It’s a privilege for me, as an author who has been deeply involved in the Voices for Indi movement since 2012, to tell the story of this remarkable rise in democratic participation.

I first attended Our Community’s annual conference, Communities in Control, in 2015, where I made a presentation about Indi’s community politics approach.

I have been forever grateful for that opportunity and for Our Community’s support along the way. I’ve always felt that the conference’s title was a guiding message for our work in Indi.

We were becoming a community in control of our politics, our democracy, and our relationship with political representatives, without distant external party or big donor influence.

The Indi Way tells the story of active democratic participation by thousands of people in political election campaigns.

Voices for Indi team
The Voices for Indi team at the 2023 Communities in Control Conference.

This involved attending events focused on political awareness raising, and participating in our democracy. It required building courage, enjoyment and creativity in being an active citizen and having respectful conversations with other members of the local community.

Members of the movement attended Parliament House to work as volunteers or active citizens in the offices of Cathy McGowan or Helen Haines. They participated in the selection process to identity the best-suited applicant to stand at the next federal election, and to represent the electorate.

The book has forewords from Barrie Cassidy and Laura Tingle, both highly experienced political journalists. There’s also a note from former federal member for Indi Cathy McGowan.

It tells first-hand the experiences, stories and perspectives of the 12 authors and others on a variety of topics – from the establishment and identity of Voices for Indi and the importance of conversations in creating change to how democracy is better when people are engaged in it and the experiences of being a community independent federal member of parliament.

Along with Lesley Howard, I co-authored chapter 14, “Beyond Indi”, which focuses on carrying the Indi experience to other electorates around the country.

In 2017, I made a presentation for an independent candidate in Manly, NSW, along with Phil Haines, a founding member of Voices For Indi – Phil was Cathy McGowan’s campaign manager when she defeated the then Member for Indi, Sophie Mirabella, and he is married to current Indi MP Helen Haines.

The following year, Voices for Indi organised a forum in Wodonga called “Getting elected – to represent your community”.

This was attended by people from Manly who went on to form Australia’s second Voices group, Voices of Warringah. The Indi movement was beginning to grow.

It was an exhilarating and purposeful experience.

The Indi Way in bookstore
The Indi Way tells the story of how a rural community sparked a social and political movement.

From 2019, we were receiving a strong stream of enquiries from people who wanted to become more actively involved in their democracy. They wanted to do better than accept cynical polarisation and the fear dominating their politics.

The 'Voices for Australia' project group included Lesley Howard, Phil Haines and me.

Over the next three years, road trips, phone conversations and Zoom meetings with inspired people across the country became our way of spreading the word and occupied a big part of our lives.

The chapter “Beyond Indi” includes testimonies and commentary from members of the many groups that have been established. It also documents the impressive work of the Community Independents Project, which has delivered online national conferences and held numerous webinars and “town hall” meetings.

“From little things, big things grow” is the title of a song by Kev Carmody and Paul Kelly and it evokes the power of community to be strong and to achieve great things.

It’s the story of Voices for Indi too.

In 2012, we had no idea of the impact one small group in a rural Australian electorate could have.

The Indi Way is about building a new and positive relationship between the community and its elected representatives, both now and in the future.

It’s a story of hope, possibility and courageous endeavour underpinned by shared values and engaging everyday people.

Denis Ginnivan is a founding member and former president of Voices for Indi. In 2019 he stepped down from the committee to focus on leading the ‘Voices for’ project, which supports the emergence and development of (currently 43) federal electorate-based Voices-type groups around the country. He is one of 12 co-authors of The Indi Way.

The Indi Way: How a rural community sparked a social and political movement is published by Scribe Publications.

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