Q&A with We are Hughes: Choosing a candidate for next federal election

The We are Hughes group is talking with independent candidates and is aiming to endorse one at the next federal election.

The political movement already has more than 1000 registered volunteers and will undertake a local grassroots campaign to encourage Hughes voters to elect a genuinely independent candidate at the imminent election.

Leader editor Craig Thomson sat down with We are Hughes founder Linda Seymour who said the group was seeking integrity, truth and inclusiveness from a candidate.

Are you running off the template of other successful independents, or would you accept one with Party affiliations?

We Are Hughes is very much a grassroots movement. We were born out of our frustration with what has been considered representation in Hughes. This frustration is felt equally by people who have different voting habits. We are not defined as left, right, conservative progressive etc. We respect anyone who could fall under any banner on any singular issue. In this sense, we have abandoned labels.

We are committed to endorsing an independent that will engage with our electorate. Helen Haines, independent member for Indi and Zali Stegall, independent member for Warringah, provide good examples of independents informing their communities and in return being informed by their constituents. This has been described as a feedback loop.

When we ask the community what attributes they expect in a representative, integrity and listening to constituents are consistent themes.

We know Clive Palmer is backing Craig Kelly. Will that change who you endorse? Will you be looking for a higher profile candidate or just the best candidate?

Clive Palmer and Craig Kelly will undoubtedly splash a lot of cash at campaign time. People in Hughes are not malleable enough to be taken in by an expensive campaign. Everyone we talk with is clear that it is the person's character that is the primary concern. Do they have integrity? Are they honest? Will they be a community-minded, independent? Are they intelligent? These are the things that matter. It does not matter how many dollars you throw at a campaign; people will see a good character and someone who cares about the community and good policy.

We may not have billions of dollars to call on for a campaign, but we do have a community commitment to creating something in Hughes that we can be proud of. We have thousands following us on social media, close to a thousand people signed up on our website and hundreds already signed up ready to volunteer. We will have a formidable movement ready to support the right candidate. This is politics done differently. It is a positive space to be in. We are tired of shaking an empty fist at the clouds; there is this sense of coming together to create something we can all be proud of in Hughes.

Are you actively pursuing a candidate, or do you have your own prospects?

We are clear that this movement is community first, candidate second.

We are in the critical listening and engaging with community phase. The potential candidates we are speaking with are all on board with participatory democracy as a principle and all embody the characteristics we expect. The important thing is the candidates we are talking with all respect the process of us reaching out to the community first for input.

The group recently held a rally for supporters and interested voters with former federal independent MP Dr Kerryn Phelps and Indi MP Cathy McGowan, the keynote speakers. How did that go?

Dr Phelps and Ms McGowan endorsed our call for integrity and truth from an independent candidate.

Both Kerryn Phelps and Cathy McGowan provided insights into the inner workings of their campaigns.

A quote that stood out to everyone was when Dr Phelps said people often refer to the balance of power in regards to independent members of parliament. However, Dr Phelps turned the phrase on it head and said good genuine independents bring to parliament the "power of balance."

There was a real sense of being spoken with. That differentiation is important. True Independent members talk with their communities without the veil or obstruction of party-political positions.

Kerryn and Cathy are not career politicians, and both have successful professional lives outside politics. They were accessible in a way that is rarely seen from party politicians; there was a feeling they were "one of us" rather than a political class.

Do you have anything you would like to add?

Hughes is an electorate that has been taken for granted. With the recent publicity around our current MP, Craig Kelly, many constituents are becoming aware of how our elected member's seat has been used. For years Craig Kelly has spent his time mocking science, posting prolific climate change denial, and more recently promoting unproven COVID-19 treatments. The latter resulted in his removal from Facebook as he breached their misinformation policies. Craig Kelly was kept in his seat against the wishes of the local branch, protected by a system that cares more about party brand than it does about good policy or representation.

We Are Hughes is about people coming together to say enough is enough. We can have good policy, representation, and respect. We are creating the change ourselves, reaching across the political divide and uniting. This is an excellent space to be in. We invite all people who are tired of "politics as usual" to join us.

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