The Power and the Passion – Catalyst chats to pollies ahead of the election

This year as we wade our way through the federal election campaign, we’re likely to hear a lot about what drives our politicians. So, when they’re not kissing babies, whacking on a hard hat or touring some sort of manufacturing facility what is it that motivates our representatives? The power, or the passion? We spoke to three politicians* to find out what drives them…

Cathy McGowan (Federal MP for Indi)

As told to Finn Devlin

At first I was reluctant to stand, but I was encouraged by friends to run for Indi.

They said to me “Cathy, you’ve been talking about this all your life” but I only decided to run those who encouraged me also said they would work with her. The community wants to be represented by someone who most represents them.

There is a high level of political engagement in my electorate. I only worry about Indi; I don’t pay much attention to what it’s like in the rest of Australia. Mostly, Indi used to vote National. Then it changed and voted Liberal. Now it is voting Independent…the demographics (of Indi) have changed. It is coming from all sides of politics.

There’s about ten things I’m passionate about in politics. Investing in health and higher education, for example, or fixing the public transport system, or helping the failing manufacturing industries, improving mental health services. There are huge problems getting the right services to people.

But in terms of success during the last term, we’ve halved the amount of (mobile) black spots in our electorate. Of course, there is still a long way to go.

Eric Kerr (Labor Candidate for Indi)

As told to Claudia Long

There was really no clear path for me into politics. Prior to me, my family had little involvement in politics so there was no drive from there, in fact most of my family are in medical services.

So really I was going down a medical path. It was only around year 12 in VCE that I decided politics was my preferred method of how I wanted to have an impact and contribute. That was when I decided it was what I wanted to do and what I was good at.

What drives me more often than not these days is – like many people – I read the newspaper, watch the news and get angry about the state of things and what happens and what goes on. I really feel like it’s almost not a choice, it’s something I have to do to make sure things are changed.

It’s not like politics is the only way to change the world, there’s business and community organisations and all kinds of ways.  Obviously the seat I’m running in is a tough one to win, Labor hasn’t won Indi for over 70 years now and the last time they did was because the sitting member forgot to file their paperwork!

It’s a bit of a Labor legend here and it’s almost a bit surreal when you talk to people about it, but that’s the reality that we face. And going into it as a candidate – in what people will tell you is an unwinnable seat – you’ve got a lot to reconcile within yourself about how you then take it on and challenge it. And for me regardless of if I win or lose, I’m still going to be working in the community sphere. Looking at what issues are out there and working them through to a solution with community involvement.

So whether it’s in the seat of Indi or elsewhere I’m still going to be wanting to find employment and meaningful purpose out of community outcomes. I’m still really committed to the area I’m in and I don’t see myself leaving North East Victoria any time soon. Certainly ensuring that Labor is well represented here and that we’re giving voice to Labor values and this is something I’m really keen to keep on doing.

Ellen Sandell ( Member for Melbourne, Victorian Legislative Assembly)

As told to Katie Coulthard

I was raised in a country town, in Mildura and I was always very passionate about the environment. Growing up close to the Murray River, you learn a lot about the land. Issues like droughts and salinity were common and you can definitely see the effect it has on the community.

I wanted to be a scientist but I never thought I’d be a politician. Throughout my studies though, I became aware science often has solutions already and it’s the politicians who block it up.

The response I get from the community for the work I do is heartening. On Thursday, when I leave parliament I try and do an event that night because it’s lovely to go and talk to some real people who actually want to get things done. There are a lot of people in politics at the moment who have been in the industry ever since university and have not held any other job outside. I think it creates a culture where people are there more for the power than the passion.

The most important thing for me is getting outcomes. When you go out to the forests and see they’re being logged and look at the beautiful old trees we could protect– that fires me up. When I see people being brave and running campaigns to take bold steps, that’s what keeps me going.

To those considering getting involved in our political system somehow, I’d say go for it. We need more people with passion in politics and those who care about issues, not just power. Do it for the right reasons, not just because you think it’ll be glamorous.


*Unfortunately our scheduled interview with a Liberal MP was moved until after deadline for reasons out of our control. Keep an eye out for it in Issue 3!

Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!

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