To quote singer-songwriter Paul Kelly, “from little things big things grow”.
In July 2020 a group of women, all living in the federal electorate of Mackellar, were at a Mona Vale home, enjoying a cup of coffee and talking about issues that mattered to them.
They came from a range of backgrounds but inevitably many of their concerns were similar – they were mothers, sisters, daughters – and had a political dimension. Despite having strong links to their local communities, the women didn’t feel they had a clear line though to those making high-level decisions that affected their lives and those of their families.
And so Voices of Mackellar was born. Inspired by similar organisations (Voices of Warringah, Voices of Indi), Voices of Mackellar’s mission is “to engage Mackellar residents in the democratic process”. And, for Mackellar Voices, it means doing it in a resolutely non-partisan way.
“It was very, very much an active decision for the Voices of Mackellar to remain non-partisan,” says the organisation’s acting president, Sheilah Hogan. “The voices of the community are paramount. We are very passionate about being non-partisan so those who see themselves as non-political can be informed and engaged.”
It’s a two-part process: first find out what matters most to voters and then make the result public so elected representatives are aware of those concerns. To that end, Voices of Mackellar convenes conversations with groups of voters at Kitchen Table Conversations – held via Zoom when in-person gatherings were restricted – and conducts an online community survey. The findings are published in a report, aptly named Mackellar Matters. The first was issued last year.
This year’s report is even more vital: the next federal election must be held no later than May 21. Not surprisingly, Voices of Mackellar is keen to canvass as many voters as possible. To widen the range of views the current survey asks for responses from people who have not taken part in a Kitchen Table Conversation in the past 12 months.
The survey will close at the end of March so data can be synthesised and the report published before election day. Voices of Mackellar ensures all candidates contesting Mackellar get a copy of Mackellar Matters and a link to download.
Voices of Mackellar also hopes the report may be used as a point of reference for candidate forums leading up to the election.
“We are actively pursuing suburbs and age-groups that need more representation,” says Sheilah. Participants are asked, among other things, what they value most about living in Mackellar, what local issues are important to them and what qualities they think are important in a parliamentary representative.
There are about 120,000 voters in Mackellar and the goal of Voices of Mackellar is to reach at least 1% of those. It may not sound a huge number but Voices of Mackellar is still a fledgling organisation and the amount of skill and organisation it takes to arrange the Kitchen Table Conversations, the survey and the Mackellar Matters report is immense for a small team.
“We have to pick and choose what we do for the year. It has to speak to our mission,” says Sheilah. “We want to pick a few events and activities that we can do well and not be everything to everybody.”
Postscript: Mackellar was named after one of Pittwater’s most famous figures, poet Dorothea Mackellar (1885-1968). Majestic Lovett Bay residence Tarrangua was built in 1925 for Mackellar.