Thank you to everyone who signed my nomination form! I'm now officially a candidate!
My sister, niece and I spent Sunday morning (5th of June) with the Strathbogie Sustainable Forests group in the hills just out of Strathbogie learning about, and documenting, fungi. The group seem to know the history and ecology of the area like the back of their hand.
The plan was to do a 'fungi walk', but we didn't get very far - there were so many species within about 20m of where we'd parked. My favourites were Mycena Interrupta (aka Pixie's Parasol) for its vibrant blue color and Xerula Radicata (aka Rooting Shank) for its surprising stature.
After we left, I headed to Coles in Shepparton to collect more signatures. Given it was bleak and cold, not many people wanted to stop for a chat. Perhaps that was all part of Mr Turnbull's plan in calling a winter election :P.
That evening I went through the signatures I had and verified as many as I could - by the end, I had 205 signatures and by my count 101 matched the electoral roll!
I had planned to head to Kyabram on Monday morning, but instead was at the AEC office in Shepparton by 9am. I was told it would take approx. 2hrs to go through all of my signatures, so I headed over to Woolworths in Kyabram to hand out flyers for an hour before receiving the call to say that my nomination could be accepted, I just needed to pay the $1000 deposit.
Back to the AEC I went, paid the deposit then called Mum who told me she was so proud that she was almost crying. For me it's just the first hurdle in this long election campaign.
Once I was off the phone to Mum, I had a missed call from the AEC; the message suggested there was a problem with my paperwork. I was right outside so re-entered – thankfully it was just a mix up as to whether I wanted to have my phone number published on their site.
I then went back outside to call my niece and let her know – she rejected the call! I tried my sister’s phone, she answered and informed me that my previous call had been rejected as my niece was halfway through her maths worksheet and felt it would be irresponsible to answer the phone before she’d finished – how very responsible!
My sister and I chatted for a while until my niece had finished her worksheet so I could tell her about the AEC, then went back into the Electoral Commission office (for the last time that day) to see if I could bring people along to the ballot draw on Friday – apparently it’s a normal thing to do, so my niece and sister could come and stickybeak!
Rather than head back to Kyabram for another hour or so, I decided to head straight to Echuca and prepare for the Committee for Echuca Moama (C4EM) candidate's forum that evening. I was determined to do a better job than I had on Friday.
I checked in to the caravan park and got ready whilst working on my speech, then headed to the venue 30mins early so I wouldn’t be late. Needless to say I was the first one to arrive, a few seconds ahead of the ABC camera crew. The organisers had finished setting up so I hung around and waited, a local gentleman asked for my autograph (he later asked each candidate).
Roger – a Liberal supporter I keep bumping into – arrived and ten minutes later the candidates began to arrive. Fern Summer had put her paperwork in to the AEC earlier in the day too; whilst Nigel Hicks was still collecting signatures to be sure his nomination would be accepted the following day.
I noted that Duncan McGauchie made the same speech as he had on Friday to the MDA; a couple of people present also noted this on social media. I think all the candidates did quite well.
The questions were more diverse at this event, ranging from water, to drugs and to family court matters. Afterwards, I made a beeline to a couple who had asked a question relating to the seven children they foster potentially being sent back to live with their drug addicted mother.
I won’t go in to details here, but they raised several problems with government systems – state and federal – that I aim to fix if elected. I also managed to speak to another gentleman, Wade, who had asked a question of Duncan about how he expected to “get our water back” as mentioned in his speech. He and I, along with another gent, sat there for about 3 and a half hours chatting about everything from water to Indigenous policy and back to the power structures within the VFF and other Ag lobby groups.
I learnt quite a lot, including that it’s quite possible that if the irrigation channels were all sealed properly, the amount of water saved through leakage (and evaporation in the areas that it could be piped) should allow for the desired environmental water flows – farmers and environmentalists could both be happy!
The following day (Tuesday) I was back at Woolworths in Kyabram, given that I hadn’t been there long the day before. It was freezing! I ended up with chilblains by the end of the day, although it was worth it – I had several short conversations with kids walking past wondering what I was doing; I got to explain a bit about how parliament works! One such conversation was with Hannah who walked up and asked what I was doing. To gauge her political knowledge, I asked a few questions – it turns out she thought Obama was our PM. I gave a quick run-down of who Malcolm Turnbull is and what my role as an independent MP would entail.
Hannah then suggested that I make a law against homework because it’s bad for people’s mental health. She seemed buoyed when I told her that studies have shown that countries with less homework get better educational outcomes than those with more, I even went so far as to make my first election promise. I told Hannah that if elected, I’d speak to the Education Minister about the homework situation, although I didn’t expect there to be a ban. She accepted this and went on her way. Ten minutes later she was back with two friends Kaley and Billie, we spoke in more depth about how parliament works – and about homework policy, of course. By the end I had agreed to give a ‘shout out’ to ‘Hannah from Kyabram’ in my maiden speech and the girls had decided to take flyers home to their parents and tell them to vote for me (their suggestion, not mine!)
Part way through the afternoon, I noticed on Twitter that a gentleman had misrepresented my comments regarding Ice at the forum the night before. After a bit of clarification, he told me of an Ice forum on that night at the Stanhope footy club. One of Sharman Stone’s staffers stopped for a chat before I left, she told me she was quite excited that someone my age was standing and that by hanging around in the cold I was “doing the hustings proud”. I’ve always thought ‘hustings’ was a silly word, but I’m pleased to have been doing them proud J.
When I arrived at the Stanhope footy club for the ice forum, one of the organisers recognised me; she’d seen me handing out flyers in Mooroopna. She introduced me to a few people, including Cr Adrian Weston of Campaspe Shire. He’d seen my speech to the MDA in Echuca and thought I’d raised some interesting points.
The forum began with Leading Senior Constable Bernadette Cowley from Echuca Police outlining what Ice is, how it affects the brain, how an Ice affected person behaves and what an Ice manufacturing house might look or smell like. The next speaker was Murray from Teen Challenge, a local faith-based rehab centre, who spoke about his own history with drugs and how he became clean, healthy and working in the drug rehab centre that helped him. Terry spoke next; he has completed 8 months of the 12 month program at Teen Challenge and discussed his journey out of addiction and how he’s fairing now.
I asked Leading Senior Constable Cowley about the fears some have about the perceived dangers of having drug rehab centres built near their homes – has she noticed any increase in issues in those areas. Her answer was no, which fits with my experiences working for 000 and is information I’ll be able to take to the candidates’ forums.
I had a chat about education with the principal of Stanhope primary school – she had some really interesting points to make about Indigenous education, having worked in other regional areas including Mildura. I also got to ask Cr Weston about some issues I’ve been hearing in Campaspe Shire with council apparently holding up and stifling investment. Apparently all of the things I’ve heard are true; it seems most of the issues lie within the bureaucracy of council. It’s an area that is governed by state government legislation, but certainly something I want to learn more about. Adrian told me of a meeting on Saturday in Shepparton relating to better and more transparent local government and invited me to attend, an invitation that I accepted.
I spent Wednesday outside IGA in Cobram, handing out flyers and talking to passers-by, whilst there I was asked for comment by the Numurkah Leader about preferences and had a phone interview with Fiona from the Yarrawonga Chronicle.
On Thursday I was outside the Yarrawonga Bakery doing the same. In Yarrawonga, I spoke to a staff member from the local neighbourhood house who told me that there are no mental health workers or social workers in town – something that surprised me. I posted on Facebook and will repeat here another election promise – I will fight for better access to mental health services across our region. If the state and federal governments won’t come to the party, if elected, I will use part of my electoral allowance to train Mental Health First Aiders to boost the chances of our people being able to access assistance when in crisis. Erin ABC Goulburn Murray saw my Facebook post and contacted me for an interview, which was appreciated.
On Friday, I woke up in my own bed for the first time all week! I then attended the ballot draw at the AEC with my sister and niece. I’ll be at second position on the paper behind Damian Drum and the other independents are further down the paper. This could bode well for me, given a large proportion of people are disenfranchised with the major parties; studies suggest that many people decide who to vote for when they arrive at the ballot box. Whilst at the ballot draw, my niece was excited to meet Sharman Stone – she’s very proud of her Sharman Stone calendar.
Next I headed out to Tongala to hand out flyers, one passer-by happened to be Senator John Madigan’s Office Manager he invited me to a barbeque the Senator was hosting that evening, for local dairy farmers at the Kyabram CFA. Robert Danieli from the Country Party was there, as was Wade who I’d spoken to in Echuca on Monday – it was good to hear a few different perspectives on issues surrounding water and agriculture. Sadly there are no easy answers, but removing the speculators from the system and ensuring that less water is wasted through leaks and evaporation would go a long way to improving things for dairy farmers and other primary producers.
On Saturday my sister and I went to the Violet Town market, then to a Better Local Government event where we again met with John Madigan and Adrian Weston. The more I hear about the Ag sector and about local government, the more I’m flabbergasted by the stupidity of decisions made by state and federal governments. It seems that council staff can take councillors to VCAT for ‘bullying’ when all the elected official was doing is questioning a decision. However if the CEO or another staff member is doing something they shouldn’t be it’s very difficult to discipline them.
On Sunday I went to the Avenel Market and then took my sister to the Tatura Rotary Art Show, there were some wonderful pieces there, including those by Jeanette Skrokov who uses paperbark and watercolour to create her images – they’re fantastic.
On Monday I should have stayed home to do a planned re-write of some of my policies, in light of new information and new perspectives. Instead, I put together my new campaigning trailer (pictured above.) Then we went to the Ruffy Produce Store, before heading North West to visit and letterbox parts of Torrumbarry, Pyramid Hill and Mitiamo.
Tuesday I spent outside Coles in Mooroopna, I heard a number of stories of what I’d describe as ‘customer service’ issues at Shepparton Hospital – not strictly a federal issue, but I will be investigating further if elected. I also had a brief intrview with one Shepparton News journo about public transport and another about my use of social media - both very much appreciated.
Today (Wednesday 15th of June) was a busy one; I spent the morning supporting my sister at the Family Court in Melbourne. We then attended a brief candidate’s forum at GOTAFE held by the Fairley Leadership Program, before doing some shopping and heading to the larger forum attended by approx. 350 locals.
Each candidate opened with a one minute speech, then we all took questions and finished with a 2 minute speech outlining what we would want our legacy to be if we were lucky enough to serve as the member for Murray for 10 years. Afterwards, there was tea and coffee in the foyer and I was surprised and humbled by the number of people who approached me to say I’d spoken well. With a little over 2 weeks to go, it was a welcome confidence boost.