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With Local Council elections coming up, it’s important to remember to support diverse candidates to represent the diversity of our community.  As we navigate the twists and turns of modern politics, it’s crucial to encourage folks from all walks of life to step up and help shape the future. It also reminds me about the time I ran as an independent candidate for the Federal Senate at the tender age of 21. The experience was eye-opening and taught me lessons about leadership that are just as relevant today.

A Leap into the Political Arena

Let me take you back to 2004, a time when politics looked quite different from today. Independent candidates were a rarity on the political stage. In fact, the morning TV show, Sunrise, initiated a campaign to inspire their viewers to consider running as independents in the upcoming election, which had not been called yet.

At the tender age of 21, I already had some exposure to politicians and politics through my community volunteering efforts. Meeting with local and national parliamentarians, including the Prime Minister and other prominent figures, had provided me with valuable insights and drive to make a difference.

When Sunrise invited viewers to share their visions as a potential Senators, I eagerly shared my perspective. Little did I know that this step would change the course of my life.

Viewer Votes for Political Pop Stars

Sunrise decided to spotlight the aspiring Senators and invited three participants from each state to travel to Parliament House in Canberra to explore the possibility of running for the Australian Senate. We had the privilege of meeting and conversing with seasoned politicians, all while preparing one-minute pitches to share with the viewers.

This is where it took an unexpected turn, what I like to call “political pop stars.” In the age of reality TV shows, viewers were invited to vote for their preferred Senator-to-be, with the chance to win $10,000 to support their election campaign. To my amazement, I won the viewer vote in Western Australia and received the funds to create a political platform.

With the election just around the corner, I took on the challenge with unwavering determination. I printed flyers, created posters, designed T-shirts, set up a website, and attended countless networking events. My focus was clear: connecting with young people, women, and small businesses to understand their political perspectives and community needs. I even took to the streets during the morning rush to engage with the public, and I had the opportunity to share my message on Sunrise during the election campaign too.

Number One on the Ballot and the Power of Preference Deals

Running with a group (rather than as an ungrouped independent) and securing the required number of signatures placed me first on the ballot sheet. I also delved into preference deals, including negotiations with major parties and lesser-known political groups. Looking back, I recognise the significance of these preference deals and how they can propel a candidate into office with relatively few first preference votes.

Lessons for Aspiring Leaders

Reflecting on my political journey, I’ve distilled three valuable lessons:

  1. The Trust Gap: The stark lack of trust in politicians became evident as I transitioned from a 21-year-old community volunteer to a political candidate. Doors closed, and skepticism prevailed. This trust deficit remains an issue today, and there’s an opportunity to redefine the role and perception of politicians.  Whether it’s politics, the workplace or community organisations, trust is vital.  Building trust comes back to fundamental behaviours; doing what you say you will do, communicating honestly, being geniune and having the greater good in mind.
  2. Understanding Our System: The public’s limited knowledge of our political system struck me. Many asked which “seat” I was running for in the Senate, revealing a need for better civic education. There’s an opportunity to update and demystify our political system and explore alternative forms of governance.  Get to know these systems, talk with your local member of parliament, vote in Local Council elections – this is civic leadership in action, and we each must play a role.
  3. Anyone Can Lead: Running for politics is not reserved for a select few. It’s an arena where individuals can bring diverse perspectives, challenge the status quo, and champion change. Embracing innovation and rejecting outdated norms can pave the way for new, character-driven leaders. But it takes time, money and support to make it happen.  If you don’t put yourself up, who can you actively support.

I’m glad to observe an era political transformation in our state and federal politics, figures like Cathy McGowan, Zali Steggles, and Kate Chaney over the years that have shown that the time is ripe for individuals driven by the greater good, rather than ego, status, or party politics, to step forward as leaders.

We need leaders who embody character, who are willing to bridge divides and work for the collective well-being. Now, more than ever, is the time to put yourself forward and make a positive impact on our evolving political landscape.

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