A red-hot chance in Indi?

Last month Inside Story joined us on the campaign trail in Indi. 

Read the full piece from Kerry Ryan here.

Robert Menzies once said that getting the Australian people to vote yes at a referendum was “one of the labours of Hercules.” It was typical Menzies colour; he could simply have said it was bloody near impossible. Fast-forward almost seventy years and either of those phrases could describe the task now before Helen Haines in the federal seat of Indi.

Haines, a nurse, midwife and rural health academic, is Cathy McGowan’s anointed successor as independent member for Indi and the new face of grassroots political organisation Voices for Indi. She is hoping to carry McGowan’s orange flag back to Canberra and do what no person has done before in Australian federal politics — follow a fellow independent into parliament’s lower house.

Aaron Francis/Newspix

If that isn’t enough of a challenge for Haines, history also shows that female independents are extremely rare in Canberra. Cathy McGowan and Kerryn Phelps, both of whom enjoy national profiles, are a historical anomaly. Together, they account for 50 per cent of the total number of women to have sat as independents in the House of Representatives since Federation. The other two? From 1946 to 1949, Doris Blackburn represented the seat of Bourke — now Wills — in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, and much later Pauline Hanson had an even shorter and somewhat explosive stint as the independent member for Oxley from 1996 until she formed One Nation the following year.

While there can only ever be one Doris Blackburn, McGowan was a first of her own. No other woman has ever represented a rural electorate as an independent in federal parliament.

Despite all that history, Helen Haines is a serious chance for making it to Canberra in 2019. Andrew Wilkie, a possible future crossbench colleague with an eye and ear on the hype currently swirling around independents in general, says she’s “a red-hot chance.” But some pundits are not so sure, pointing out that an independent relies on name recognition and reputation to be elected and that Haines, at least politically, is yet to establish either.

It might just be that Cathy McGowan’s name and reputation will be enough to get Haines the gig, though. Certainly, hitching her wagon to the retiring member’s legacy will be vital to her chances.

Read the full piece on Inside Story here.