The ‘Voices for’ network is standing self-declared ‘Independent’ candidates in affluent Liberal Party seats in the coming federal election.
It is the work of the Community Independents Project, established by several consultants to the government in the electorate of Indi, including Cathy McGowan, Alana Johnson, Susan Benedyka, and Ruth McGowan. The fact that its founders are exclusively consultants to the government is critical to understanding this group and its politics.
It has four key features:
First and foremost, it is a method of defeating Liberal incumbents in seats where the demographics prevent the ALP or Greens from ever winning. It is not just an accident that the Voices project only operates in Liberal-held seats, it is by design – that is the aim of the project. It is not interested in low-income or outer suburban ALP-held seats.
Secondly, the agenda of the Voices group is not determined by its local people, it is a franchise with a fixed product. Consider the case of the group Voices of Mornington Peninsula (VMP). The recent Mayor of Mornington Peninsula, Despi O’Connor, sought VMP endorsement for the seat of Flinders. She failed to get it because although she is a climate change activist, female, and a recent high-profile Mayor – she doesn’t support the Andrews government on vaccine passports. The VMP rejected her and will now choose between two other applicants who toe the party line on that issue. Interestingly, VMP had decided that it would allow a Town Hall meeting of community members to vote on choosing its candidate. But on realising that Delphi might win that ballot, they dropped that idea and decided that the VMP Committee will now select their preferred candidate. Undeterred, Despi O’Connor is standing as an Independent for Flinders anyway.
Thirdly, the fixed policy agenda of the Voices group has three dot points: talk up the prospect of climate catastrophe, call for an integrity commission, and call for justice for women in the Canberra ‘workplace’. That’s it. There is no policy substance, no economic agenda, and no governance reform framework. Sexual equality in democracy and governance is treated as a ‘workplace equity’ issue for people for whose advancement in the workplace is their highest personal priority. Just three dot points, which are identical in every campaign waged by the various ‘Independents’…
The fourth feature is perhaps the most alarming. The Cathy McGowan group has a very particular kind of feminism which opposes voluntary work in the community (because women have traditionally been exploited in this unpaid work). It thinks all community work should be paid by the government (and when you consider that all members of the co-ordinating group are consultants to the government, you can see where this has come from). This is a very extreme position. Of course, many women did unpaid work in community organisations during the historical period when women were largely excluded from paid employment – and the correction to this surely involves both men and women sharing paid work and sharing voluntary work, as well as sharing household work. The solution is NOT to want all community work to be paid for by the government. This is ideology gone mad. This is a position that 99 per cent of community-minded people regard as extreme and nonsensical!
This movement is NOT what it declares itself to be – a loose network of locally-driven Independent candidates. It is an offshoot of the corporatisation of community that has taken place over the last four decades and the rise of consultants (which historian Don Watson calls ‘the dregs of managerialism’), combined with the rise of a career-oriented feminism that seeks to redefine parliaments as a ‘workplace’ for upwardly mobile female managers and consultants – not because they are the community’s first choice in representation, but because they ‘deserve’ to be occupying that career role.
The upshot of all this is that the social and occupational diversity of the Voices candidates is even less than those of the Liberal or Labor Parties. Ironically, the major parties look like ‘rainbow coalitions’ in comparison.
Vern Hughes is the Director of Civil Society Australia.
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