The IndiShares event in Oxley. Photo: Peter Merk
Cathy McGowan's unlikely victory over Liberal frontbencher Sophie Mirabella at last year's federal election might have been a one-off, the result of particular circumstances in the seat of Indi in Victoria's north-east.
But maybe not. In the tiny town of Oxley on Saturday, about 70 people inspired by the Indi campaign gathered to learn the nitty-gritty of how McGowan managed a 9 per cent swing against a supposedly safe incumbent. The first test may be Victoria's November election, where independents, disillusioned with major parties, are daring to dream of an Indi-style upset.
Bruce Argyle, Healesville small businessman and philanthropist, last week announced his candidacy in the new seat of Eildon, nominally a fairly safe Liberal electorate. Argyle is a former president of the Healesville Chamber of Commerce, owns B&Bs and runs Angus cattle and has never been a member of a political party.
Cathy McGowan after her surprising win (main) that prompted the IndiShares event in Oxley (top) with insight from Andrew Gunter and Judi Emmett. Photo: Peter Merk
''Indi inspired me because of what they were able to achieve against the odds, against a long-standing incumbent, and how they were able to achieve, starting from scratch.
''We actually think we've got a chance, though I'm sure every independent says that.''
Peter Hansford was also in Oxley to learn. He's contemplating an independent campaign under the banner ''The Voice for Macedon'' in a seat now held by Labor.
Andrew Gunter. Photo: Peter Merk
Jo McCubbin from Sale lives two blocks from Nationals leader Peter Ryan and is trying to identify an independent candidate ''to get someone else in on the [coal seam] gas issue'', a significant concern in the Gippsland South electorate.
Andrew Gunter, lawyer and former adviser to legendary former NSW independent Ted Mack, says the seat of Niddrie in Melbourne's north-west suffers from being a safe Labor seat.
''It's not relevant for decisions made in Spring Street. Whenever it comes to infrastructure spending or big-ticket items that might be needed locally, the funds tend to all go to marginal seats, and that's not us.''
Judi Emmett. Photo: Peter Merk
Locals were meeting to discuss standing an independent candidate.
The IndiShares event was organised by Voices for Indi, the community group that conducted a ''kitchen table'' conversation about what people wanted from politics before supporting McGowan's candidacy.
President Alana Johnson said Saturday's meeting was organised after the group was inundated with requests about how they did it.
''It's about people wanting to do politics differently, that nothing really has changed in terms of how politics has been conducted since the election. People remain disappointed in the performance of politicians, both federal and state.''
Participants from Victoria, NSW, Queensland and Tasmania moved from table to table in discussing such things as social media, branding, volunteers and engaging young people. Apart from would-be independent candidates, there were unions, community and environment groups keen to learn about how to better engage people about their issues.
What they heard was that as romantic as an independent campaign might sound, it actually was about hard, detailed work.
In one discussion, McGowan told the group that an independent campaign was about organisation, attention to detail, and allowing stuff-ups to happen without blame. ''It's not about putting someone on a pedestal, you're not looking for me. You're looking for a small-business person who's reliable, trustworthy, and they'll grow in the job. There's absolutely no point in electing a dud.''
As insistent as Voices for Indi is about being inclusive and non-partisan, realpolitik raised its head. While Labor and the Greens had representatives, the Victorian National Party pulled out on Friday night without explanation.
The chairman of the Indi Liberal Party federal electorate conference, Tony Schneider, told The Border Mail there was nothing Liberals could learn from IndiShares and he would not sanction or encourage any Liberal member to attend. It would be ''counterproductive to our strategy to win back Indi'', he said.