Helen Haines, MP for the Victorian regional seat Indi, made history at the election as the first federal independent to succeed another independent.
She was backed by grassroots campaigners, Voices for Indi, who had earlier helped her predecessor, Cathy McGowan, into parliament. But while McGowan towards the end of her time in the House of Representatives shared real legislative power after the Coalition fell into minority government, the same power does not lie with the lower house crossbench today.
Still, Haines believes she has what she calls “soft power” as she has focused on relationship building during the first few months into her term.
Building relationships is key to getting things done and it’s key to establishing an environment that is less an environment of conflict and less an environment of bringing people down.
On current legislation, Haines is in favour of the government’s push to stop animal-rights activists from publishing farmers’ personal information.
Many people have contacted my office deeply concerned about this and I’m very supportive of bringing their views to the house on this.
But she’s a trenchant critic of the government proposal for trials to drug test people on Newstart and Youth Allowance. She says “the evidence is not there to support” the move.
In Indi, she points to mental health and aged care as frontline issues, which she will seek to work with the government on.
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Authors: Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra