Are the minor political parties good for the bush?


Andrew Broad MP
Nationals Member for Mallee

Cathy McGowan AO MP
Federal Independent Member for Indi

Q1.  In recent years, there appears to have been an increase in the number of independents and minor party candidates elected to both state and national parliaments, with many of these representing regional or rural electorates. What do you believe are the main factors that are contributing to this trend?


Andrew Broad MP

I disagree with the premise of the question – I don’t believe there has been a rise in independents and minor parties being elected to the House of Representatives from regional and rural Australia. In fact, in the 2016 federal election the National Party increased its percentage, demonstrating regional Australia’s faith in the ability for major parties, namely, the Nationals in coalition with the Liberals, to deliver real outcomes for the bush.


Cathy McGowan AO MP

Country people vote for independents because they are effective, local representatives who deliver results!

It’s not only in North East (NE) Victoria that people recognise the importance of a truly representative voice that actually does something about the problems with Centrelink and the failure of the NBN, supports young people and advocates for cohesive regional policy. I believe country people all around the nation want leaders who will speak up for fairness and equity, for better transport systems as well as for trade, and action on climate change. The difference is that in NE Victoria, in Indi, the community did something about it. They got organised. They did what rural communities have traditionally done so effectively. They set about fixing things up. They did it themselves.

Q2.  From your observations, what do you think the main advantages and disadvantages are for a region that elects an independent or minor party member of parliament?

Andrew Broad MP

Independents have the freedom to champion causes but they don’t actually have to deliver and therefore, they don’t have to consider the consequences. They can be passionate advocates for all sorts of things but the responsibility for balancing the books doesn’t sit with them, so their passion doesn’t translate to power to direct the country or to set the economic framework for the prosperity of their electorate.

Cathy McGowan AO MP

Independent representatives can be fearless and more effective in their action. People in the regions often feel they have no presence in government policy, that they are cast as ‘special cases’ or an afterthought. This was clear in recent childcare reforms, which assumed families everywhere had access to childcare centres and did away with funding for the uniquely rural mobile childcare services.

Regardless of which major party is in power, issues such as telecommunications and transport infrastructure are heavily influenced by population density and geographical convenience. Regional needs get lost in the national picture. An independent voice speaks clearly about the impact on rural and regional Australia.

An independent representative can deliver real results. In my first three years as the Member for Indi, more than $127.9 million flowed to the electorate for the infrastructure and services we needed. Taking groups and getting councils to Canberra to lobby and meet directly with Government is building stronger communities.

The result of this approach for Indi has been better funding for mobile telecommunications, improvements to Centrelink for dairy farmers, infrastructure funding for our train line, community action around renewable energy and refugees as well as a higher profile on the national scene. Safe electorates don’t count. Contested electorates do.

Q3.  Could you provide a recent example where you think a rural electorate has been advantaged or disadvantaged as a consequence of either having or not having an independent or minor party representative in a parliament?

Andrew Broad MP

Independent and minor party representatives, whilst passionate and committed to their regions and the people who live there, have no input into the direction nor any measureable contribution to the development of policy. The National-Liberal Coalition has developed and implemented policies specifically to support regional Australia. Illustrations of this can be seen in the Mobile Black Spot Program, the recent tax cuts for small and medium sized businesses and the free trade agreement with Japan. Independents and minor party representatives can champion causes but they can’t affect real change because ultimately, Parliament is about numbers and you achieve things by being a member of a team.

Cathy McGowan AO MP

I have a direct input into policy, regardless of which party is in Government. I have been asked for my input into policy by the Prime Minister and senior Ministers at regular meetings. I also have the opportunity to offer policy initiatives via membership of committees such as the Joint Standing Committee into the NBN and via Private Members Business including the tabling of motions and bills into the House of Representatives.

One clear example of the Indi Way, that is, encouraging local people to step up with their expertise and local knowledge, has been working with the Alpine Valleys Dairy Pathways Project (AVDPP). The AVDPP is a collaboration of farmers, industry, local government, and land and water management groups that sought solutions to the dairy crisis.

The AVDPP developed a model for significant growth in the local industry, taking into account the need for capital investment, labour and community support. As an independent representative I was able to support the initiative across all parties as well as to Government.

Together we took effective action to address the failure of emergency welfare to properly support farmers through the milk price emergency. Strong local action brought Senator Bridget McKenzie to the region and ultimately resulted in changes to Centrelink legislation to better suit the farmers’ needs.

The AVDPP recently took their model for growth to Parliament House, meeting with senior advisers to the Minister for Agriculture and Water the Hon Barnaby Joyce and other government ministers and officials, sharing their model and possible solutions which would address labour market needs, investment opportunities and water management.

I encourage other rural and regional communities to act in their own best interests. Become a competitive seat! Get in touch at:

Image caption: Federal Independent Member for Indi, Cathy McGowan AO MP (third from left) with members of the Alpine Valleys Dairy Pathways Project delegation to Canberra, Patten Bridge, Stuart Crosthwaite, Pat Glass, Cr David Wortmann, Karen Moroney and Scott McKillop.