Sue Barrett, campaign manager for Zoe Daniel, reflects on the 2022 Australian federal election campaign in the Division of Goldstein, named after Vida Goldstein.
The federal electorate of Goldstein is named after Vida Goldstein (1869–1949), an Australian suffragist, social reformer, and prominent women’s rights campaigner. Goldstein was one of the first women to stand for federal parliament in 1903. She ran as an independent candidate five times for either the Senate or the House of Representatives between 1903 and 1917, but unsuccessfully.
The Division of Goldstein was created in 1984, after a redistribution of electorates. It was fitting that it was named after Vida Goldstein, one of the first women to stand for elected office in Australia and the world. Until the election of Zoe Daniel this year, Goldstein had generally been considered a safe Liberal Party seat, and had always been held by men: Ian Macphee, David Kemp, Andrew Robb, and Tim Wilson.
Zoe Daniel’s election as the first woman and the first community-backed independent to hold the seat which bore Vida Goldstein’s name was thus greeted with jubilation.
I had the privilege and honour of being involved in this historic moment from the start. In this brief post, I would like to offer a glimpse into how a bunch of committed and community minded people channelled our inner Vida Goldstein to make history in 2022.
I was one of the founding members of Voices of Goldstein and chaired the selection panel to put forward a community-backed independent candidate for Goldstein at the 2022 federal election. Once former journalist Zoe Daniel was chosen as our candidate, I became her campaign manager and led a community of 1,500 volunteers on our quest to change the nature of politics in Goldstein and in Australia.
The groundwork for our quest to change a safe blue ribbon Liberal seat to a community backed independent seat had begun over a century ago with the trailblazing work undertaken by Vida Goldstein. Although she was not elected, Goldstein worked with other feminists to form lobby groups and other organisations to change social views in the early years of the twentieth century. The idea that women could sit in Parliament was gradually accepted, but progress to have more women represented in parliament has been agonisingly slow.
As the perfectly titled 2021 ABC television series Ms Represented with Annabel Crabb revealed, it is only in very recent years that women have been elected in significant numbers. Some individuals have become prominent in Federal and State politics but statistically women are still underrepresented.
Australia has also slipped backwards on the 2021 Global Gender Gap Index. The World Economic Forum ranked Australia at 50 out of 156 countries in 2021. Australia’s rankings in terms of women’s equality and empowerment have fallen dramatically from 12th to 70th in economic participation and opportunity, from 57th to 99th in health and survival, and from 32nd to 54th in political empowerment since 2006. This is unacceptable.
For many in our community, the catalyst for change was the mounting evidence of the impact of climate change. We saw party politicians voting in favour of their vested interests rather than for their constituents. The mainstream media was concentrated in too few hands, and the lack of workable policies and accountability for major issues left many of us feeling isolated and powerless.
Something started brewing in early 2020. If people were not already restless and agitated with the lack of meaningful progress in Australia and the scandal-ridden Federal Parliament, the Morrison government’s mishandling of the 2019–20 bushfire crisis increased feelings of anxiety. Many of us felt helpless as we wondered what on earth to do. There was fury and distress at seeing our country and our future prosperity go up in flames. People started to look for ways to effect real change. If the Australian government was not going to do anything, then we felt that we had better mobilise and take back control.
In Goldstein, community groups like Bayside Climate Crisis Action Group (BCCAG) and individuals like me started to look for ways to get organised. We were deeply frustrated with career politicians who simply did not care about us. We had had enough.
Through active social media and social networks, a small group of disenchanted Goldstein voters got together to see how we could do democracy better.
In January 2021, we founded Voices of Goldstein. Our numbers quickly grew as we built our messaging and brand through our website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram groups. We conducted many Kitchen Table Conversations, in person and virtually. The Kitchen Table Conversations revealed overwhelming support for a community-backed Independent Candidate for Goldstein.
Around March-April 2021, we contacted Ian Macphee AO, to gauge his support for our quest. Macphee was originally the member for Balaclava and then member for Goldstein (1974–1990), and was a former Minister in the Fraser Liberal Government. Macphee is best known for his centre politics and support for refugees and women’s rights. He crossed the floor to vote for the Sex Discrimination Act of 1984 even when the Coalition in Opposition opposed it. He did not let us down. He said:
This is the time when voters in a progressive electorate like Goldstein must play their part. I believe grassroots activity is imperative and can be done by supporting good independent candidates.
The Liberal Party branches are now controlled by the Liberal Party head office, which does not listen to ordinary voters. If genuine Liberal voters can’t influence the branches, they must come together with other voters to support a really good, honest, broad thinking, visionary candidate to represent them.
The more independent Senators and Members of the House of Representatives we can have to review policies, and their implementation, the better – that’s the state we’ve got to in our democracy which has been abused by power hungry people.
Ian and I have become firm friends in our quest to see politics done better and women become more prominent in leadership roles, especially in Parliament.
I was also one of the founding organisers of the Women’s March4Justice event that saw over 110,000 people attend over 200 events around Australia on 15 March 2021 to protest the dreadful treatment of women in Parliament House. I saw first-hand the power of women and their supporters to unite, raise awareness and ignite change on many levels. As one of the founders of Voices of Goldstein and as campaign manager for Zoe Daniel, I have witnessed the power of community, especially women, who’ve found their voices and together are creating change in our democracy.
It is no surprise that many of the community-backed independents standing in the 2022 federal election were women. I would argue that when women have at least 50 per cent representation and equal sharing of power in senior leadership and decision-making roles in business and politics, we will have healthier more prosperous democracies.
Once we formed the community group Voices of Goldstein, we realised there was an untapped sea of people wanting real change. We started the political campaign with a handful of people in early November 2020. Seven months later we had a 1,500-strong organisation of volunteers. I was delighted that this culminated in Zoe Daniel winning the seat of Goldstein.
Were we lucky? No.
Winning an election campaign does not happen by chance, it happens by design.
Campaign systems, resourcing, funding, team structures, roles and responsibilities, and a code of conduct all had to be developed from scratch. We did not have to do it alone, though, because we also had the legacy and support of Cathy McGowan, independent member for the seat of Indi from 2013 to 2019, who paved the way for the community-backed independent model.
In a short space of time, we created a campaign leadership team, operations and on-the-ground leaders and teams, a fundraising team, policies, website, campaign and media strategy, branding and messaging, marketing, advertising and social media campaigns, marketing materials and merchandising, learning and IT systems, events and community activity schedules. Community activities included street meets, leafletting, door knocking, phone banking, community QandA events, summits, Zoe walks and bike rides, Zoe dog walks, and a Team Zoe choir. We raised more than $1.5 million, most of which came from the community
It was a full-on, seven-day a week, seven-month operation.
We pioneered novel methods that had not been used before. We created synergy between strategy and the mobilisation of a huge strategically focused and very disciplined ground force underpinned by effective operations management. There are some things we would do better and differently next time. We have already undertaken operational reviews in preparation for the next election in 2025. So many lessons were learned but we did not let perfection get in the way of progress. As Daniel said, we built the plane while we were flying it and landed it exactly where we needed to on election day.
We had people from every walk of life; from wealthy families, elite professionals, retirees, working families, students, pensioners, you name it – essentially ordinary everyday people working together. Everyone mucked in and did what needed to be done. We worked side by side – everyone as equal.
Our campaign was based on meritocracy. There was a lot of room to rise if you were good at what you did. Built on mutual respect and trust, there was no gender divide or discrimination. Everyone was human first and foremost.
When I think about the Australian egalitarian ethos, I saw it in practice in our campaign. No one was above anyone else. Our community is a collective direct repudiation of what we saw in previous coalition governments and their divisive culture wars.
As I reflect on those months of intense activity and community engagement, what unified us as a community then and still does now is our desire for integrity and human decency and a for a fairer system that delivers across the board for the common good.
This type of activism was new to many people as they had never worn their political stripes so publicly before, but so urgent was it to bring about change that people stepped outside their comfort zone for the greater good. And now Zoe Daniel is our elected Member of Parliament for the federal seat of Goldstein!
I am immensely proud of what we have achieved in such a short space of time, especially as most of us were strangers to each other when we started. We have achieved a rejuvenation of community with life-long friendships formed and we do not want what we have created to stop. This is just the beginning!
We have come out stronger and better for having been through this together as individuals and as a community.
As Margaret Mead said, ‘Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.’
I am sure Vida would be proud.
Sue Barrett is a human centred and sustainable business growth strategist and sales systems specialist, as well as an educator, writer, change agent, and advocate for better business, integrity, equality, and climate action. Barrett is Zoe Daniel’s Campaign Manager, and one of the founders of Voices of Goldstein and March4Justice.
Follow Sue on Twitter @SueBarrett.
Copyright remains with individual authors who grant VIDA holding a perpetual, world-wide, royalty free and non-exclusive license to use, distribute, reproduce and promote content. For permission to re-publish any VIDA blog post, in whole or in part, please contact the managing editors at firstname.lastname@example.org