JUST shy of 200 people at the Voices for Indi forum in Benalla on Saturday threw their support behind Wangaratta’s Dr Helen Haines as the potential successor to Cathy McGowan in the seat of Indi at the next federal election.
Ms McGowan has not yet said whether she will stand at the next election, indicating she will make a statement on the matter on Monday morning.
Should the incumbent MP step aside, it will be the first foray into politics for Dr Haines, who has lived in the electorate for 32 years and worked as a nurse, midwife, company director for a residential aged care home, and as a rural health researcher for the University of Melbourne.
The 57-year-old was selected from a group of three candidates at the forum, all women.
Her interest in politics by Ms McGowan’s rise to prominence during the 2013 federal election, where she first campaigned for the independent MP as part of the Voices for Indi group.
“I’ve never been a member of a political party, and I never held any ambition whatsoever to be a politician,” she said.
“I’m not a career politician, I’m absolutely a citizen of Indi, I’m a nurse, a midwife, and an academic.
“I’m someone whose involvement in politics had been a keen intellectual interest.
“When Cathy ran in 2013 though, I became really excited by local politics and I was part of the campaign supporting her.
“That really politicised me in terms of getting an understanding that local people can absolutely rally each other and do something quite extraordinary.”
Dr Haines said, should she contest the federal election, that health issues would be among her top priorities.
“I’ve lived in the North East for 32 years. I have raised my family here and have spent my professional life fighting to improve the quality of healthcare in our region,” she said.
“I’m ready to be ready – should Cathy not continue, all the people here today want someone ready to say yes, I’m going to step in.
“If I earn the support of the voters of Indi, I'll be ready to take that fight to Canberra.”
CATHY’S IMPACT ‘PROFOUND’
Cathy McGowan was merely an observer during Saturday's Voices for Indi forum, but her presence loomed large.
The incumbent MP, who is yet to publicly announce her intention to contest her seat for a third time, praised the process which led to Wangaratta's Dr Helen Haines being anointed as her potential successor.
“Today has been a fantastic demonstration of grassroots politics in Indi and a further acknowledgement of the process that led to the election of an independent six years ago,” Ms McGowan said.
“I want to thank the participants who turned up on a hot day, those who have put their hands up to be considered and Voices for Indi.
“I will now consider the outcome of today’s process and make further comment on Monday morning.”
The forum consisted of pitches from each of the candidates giving a 10 minute address to the audience, before discussing a series of scenarios they could face as a politician.
Participants in the forum also discussed each of the scenarios presented.
Live polling of the audience ran throughout the forum, ultimately leading to Dr Haines’ selection earlier than anticipated.
The successful candidate said the forum was a new way for voters to discern who they wanted as a candidate.
“Because parties have been doing things a particular way, many people think that's the only way,” she said.
“What we're putting to the Australian people is that there are other ways that you can discern amongst you, who might be the right person to represent you.
“I would say be challenged by trying to do something differently, by trying to do something in a way that's not binary.”
Dr Haines said she had been reluctant to consider a tilt at the seat until late last year, and that Ms McGowan was, in large part, the reason she decided to throw her hat into the ring.
“The influence of Cathy is profound,” she said.
“She has shown a way forward for ordinary people to understand that being in politics doesn't have to be for the usual contenders.
“I think we're seeing this all over Australia – we saw in the recent state election how many independent women stood for election.
“I think it's a breath of fresh air, it's giving the Australian people an alternative choice, and by golly we need it.
“This was an important and difficult decision for me.”
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