Parliament turns orange as Independent Member for Indi Cathy McGowan bows out

Updated April 05, 2019 13:18:13

A sea of orange filled the marble foyer of Parliament House in Canberra yesterday.

Key points:

  • Cathy McGowan was first elected in 2013, defeating Liberal Sophie Mirabella
  • She was the first female independent to sit on the crossbench
  • She plans to campaign for Indi independent Helen Haines and take a holiday

The “Orange Army” was there to hear Independent Member for Indi Cathy McGowan’s valedictory speech.

About 200 people travelled on buses and in cars from Ms McGowan’s electorate in north east Victoria. The federal seat of Indi stretches from Corryong to Mansfield, taking in Wodonga, Wangaratta, Benalla and up to the Alpine areas.

Supporters and family sat up high in the House of Representatives public gallery for Ms McGowan’s final speech. On the floor were various members of the Government, including Ms McGowan’s neighbouring MPs, the member for Farrer Sussan Ley and Victorian Senator Bridget McKenzie, and fellow Independent Member for Wentworth Kerryn Phelps.

Ms McGowan, a rural consultant and farmer, was first elected in 2013 and again in 2016, defeating prominent Liberal Sophie Mirabella.

She was the first female independent to sit on the crossbench.

In her final speech, Ms McGowan described being an MP “akin to being in a relay” and said that while she would still be in the team, “It was time to hand the baton to the next person”.

She said she wanted to see more young people engaged and involved in politics and she wanted people encouraged to turn up, speak up and always be ready to support someone.

Her final statement came from a note she saw on the back of a toilet door at Mittagundi, an outdoor education centre for young people, north of Omeo.

“The future is not some place we are going but one we are creating, the paths to it are not found but made. The making of these pathways changes both the maker and the destination,” she said.

Kerryn Phelps said there was no coincidence that her campaign for the seat of Wentworth mirrored what happened in Indi.

Dr Phelps said people wanted to see politics done differently.

“You need local independents who know their community, who understand their values and are not answerable to a faction or a party, but to their electorate,” Dr Phelps said.

“Cathy has done an extraordinary job as an independent — she has represented her community, her heart is in her community and the community has returned that love.

One of her many supporters, Lou Armstrong from Benalla, described Ms McGowan’s last hurrah as exciting and emotional.

“We have been part of something very special, there was a lot of tears because it’s been such a special time for Indi,” she said.

Heather and Jim McKean, from Wangaratta, said they were there for Ms McGowan’s first speech and felt it was “fitting” to hear her last.

“We were getting less enthusiastic about politics in Indi and got involved and elected a magnificent candidate in Cathy,” Mr McKean said.

“One of the things that appeals to me about Cathy is her integrity and honesty, and her ‘be the best person you can attitude’,” Ms McKean said.

Julie de Hennin, from Talgarno, said she witnessed a lot of respect from politicians watching Ms McGowan’s final speech.

“To see [Labor MP] Tony Burke listening so intently to Cathy and enjoying what she had to say and obviously respecting what she was saying, was so unifying,” Ms de Hennin said.

ALP member for Paterson Meryl Swanson said the “Orange Army” had been formidable, but so too had Ms McGowan.

“She came with good old fashioned hospitality, and the best Christmas cake and Muscat at her end of year parties,” Ms Swanson said.

“Last year she had two of the most powerful people in her office kitchen, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition having a piece of fruit cake … and I thought, ‘Wow that’s power right there’, when you can get two of the most powerful people in the country in your office kitchen,” she said.

Fellow crossbencher and Centre Alliance member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie said Ms McGowen had led the way.

“She was the first woman on the crossbench as an independent and I think we will see more women rise to the challenge to represent their community, here in Parliament and outside of the major parties, I think the future is bright,” Ms Sharkie said.

Former independent and member for New England Tony Windsor said he had never seen so many people come to see a final speech delivered at Parliament House.

“It’s a great credit to Cathy McGowan, but also to the people of the electorate that they are committed to democracy in their part of the world,” Mr Windsor said.

“It’s infectious this crowd, and I don’t think it’s just the orange colour, the people are so enthusiastic, and it is good to see.

“She didn’t start out to be a politician, she ended up being a parliamentarian.”

Ms McGowan planned to campaign for Indi independent Helen Haines and take a holiday.

She said she would also assess how her skills learnt in parliament could help her continue to serve regional Australia.

Topics: government-and-politics, federal-parliament, community-and-society, wodonga-3690, canberra-2600, benalla-3673

First posted April 05, 2019 12:49:27

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