Cathy Goes to Canberra: Doing Politics Differently

Cathy McGowan – Cathy Goes to Canberra

A conversation with Kerryn Phelps and Van Badham about independent, community-driven politics.

In 2013 Cathy McGowan became the first female independent to sit on the crossbench, where she would represent the Victorian rural electorate of Indi for six years. Winning the seat of Indi, after the Coalition had held the seat for 82 years, was a watershed moment. Indi became ‘Exhibit A’ for future political campaigns – from Kerryn Phelps as the Member for Wentworth to Zali Steggall in Warringah.

Cathy Goes to Canberra tells both the story of the campaign to win Indi around the community’s kitchen tables and the subsequent realities of negotiating good policy with the major political parties.

The book is a handbook – a ‘how-to-be-elected’ and a ‘how-to-survive’ Canberra. It is a manifesto for an alternative community-based politics told through the prism of the story we know as ‘Cathy McGowan Goes to Canberra’.

In 2004 McGowan was made an Officer of the Order of Australia ‘for service to the community through raising awareness of and stimulating debate about issues affecting women in regional, rural and remote areas.’ McGowan was also a recipient of the Centenary Medal in 2001.



cathy mcgowan

Getting Elected: The first national convention for community-minded independents

For candidates planning to run as independents, community members keen to support a community leader to run, and others with a commitment to help Australian politics reach its potential.

An Australian first, this online convention will be a unique opportunity to network, share skills, knowledge and experience and learn more about how community independents can change Australia for the better.

Join us online from Friday evening to Sunday lunch on the last weekend of February 2021. Be inspired by those who’ve run campaigns including independent candidates, campaigners and community voices groups.

Sign up on the Getting Elected website and we’ll email you when registrations open, along with ticket costs and our program details including workshops, speakers, and panelists.




Kevin Rudd

Kevin Rudd in Conversation

Reading’s Carlton is delighted to be hosting a conversation between former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Radio National’s ‘Big Ideas’ presenter Paul Barclay to discuss the future intersects of politics, democracy, and the media in Australia.

For some time, Australia’s democracy has been slowly sliding into disrepair. It’s tempting, but distracting, to point to the usual list of reasons – anything from the declining calibre of the political class to the growing polarisation of politics. In reality, we can’t begin to understand the current predicament of our ailing democracy without recognising the central role of Murdoch’s media monopoly. Join us at this live and in-person event to discuss this very issue.

Tickets are $25/$30 per person and include a copy of Kevin Rudd’s book, The Case for Courage. Places are strictly limited.

Please book here.

Please note this event will be recorded for Radio National’s Big Ideas show.




Bill Bowtell

Bill Bowtell in Conversation

Please note: This is an online event.

Readings is delighted to be hosting an evening with Bill Bowtell, to discuss his recent essay Unmasked: The Politics of Pandemics. Bowtell will be in conversation with microbiologist Brendan Crabb and former Prime Minister of New Zealand, and current leader of the investigation into WHO’s COVID-19 response, Helen Clark.

In Unmasked: the Politics of Pandemics, Bowtell draws on four decades of experience in the global and local politics of public health to examine why some countries got it right with coronavirus while others collapsed into misery and chaos.

This event is online and ticket entry is $5 per person, which is redeemable off purchase of the book when purchasing in store or online from the Readings website. Attendees will be sent a promo code to claim $5 off the price of the book when they book their ticket. This code will be valid until 24 hours after the event has ended. when purchasing in store, simply mention the discount code or show your digital counter to receive the discount.

Please book here.

How to ‘attend’ a virtual event at Readings

This event commences online at 6.30pm using the video conferencing platform Zoom.

To book for this event, you must provide your email address.

To ensure the Zoom event stays private, participants will be emailed a unique zoom link and a password 30 minutes before the event begins on the day of the event. Please check your email.

All bookings for online events will be closed one hour before the event begins.

You do not need to have a Zoom account to join a meeting, but mobile users will need to download the Zoom app for their device. Desktop and laptop users can either download the Zoom application or access the event via their web browser.




Bill Bowtell and Kevin Rudd

Bill Bowtell & Kevin Rudd – In the National Interest


Join Bill Bowtell, the Hon. Kevin Rudd and Fran Kelly for a conversation around the new essay series In the National Interest.

In Unmasked: the Politics of Pandemics, Bill Bowtell draws on his four decades of experience in the global and local politics of public health to examine why some countries got it right with coronavirus while others collapsed into misery and chaos. He looks closely at the critical weeks when poor planning brought Australia to the brink of disaster, until the Australian people forced their governments to put public health before politics. Unmasked reveals how and why our politicians failed us during the greatest public health crisis of this century to date.

In The Case for Courage, the Honourable Kevin Rudd writes that we can’t understand the current predicament of our democracy without recognising the central role of Murdoch’s national media monopoly. He lays out three key tasks required for the Australian Labor party to be returned to office; Labor must significantly broaden its political base; demolish the entire rationale for the conservative political project now that the Liberal Party has abandoned its position on debt, deficit and government intervention in the economy; and put forward a clear plan dealing with the challenges ahead. Now is the time for women and men of courage to act.

Free RSVPs essential to receive Zoom link.





cathy mcgowan

Women doing politics differently

In partnership with La Trobe University, WAM presents Jennifer Jones in conversation with Judith Brett, Cathy McGowan and Kat Bennett.

In celebration of International Women’s Day, La Trobe University and Write Around the Murray present a panel discussion on the historical and contemporary experience of women in politics. Featuring Judith Brett, Emeritus Professor of Politics at La Trobe; Cathy McGowan AO, who recently chronicled her experiences in Cathy Goes to Canberra: Doing Politics Differently; and Cr Kat Bennett, City of Wodonga. Moderated by Dr Jennifer Jones of La Trobe University.

Numbers for this event are limited to 50 people to comply with social distancing restrictions. Bookings are essential. Ticket price includes a complimentary drink.

Note: This event will also be live-streamed free of charge. Links will be published on this page prior to the event.




Kevin Rudd

Kevin Rudd at the National Press Club of Australia

Kevin Rudd’s new book, ‘The Case for Courage’:

‘For some time, Australia’s democracy has been slowly sliding into disrepair. The nation’s major policy challenges go unaddressed, our economic future is uncertain and political corruption is becoming normalised. It’s tempting, but distracting, to point to the usual list of reasons, from the declining calibre of the political class to the growing polarisation of politics. But we can’t understand the current predicament of our democracy without recognising the central role of Murdoch’s national media monopoly. In Queensland, where national elections are determined, he owns thirteen of the state’s fourteen newspapers. All his papers are loss-making and retained for political influence only; nationally, they act as a Liberal Party protection racket, providing zero accountability on Coalition corruption and incompetence. Together with the Liberal Party, the Murdoch media cultivates a climate of national anxiety, fear and anger through relentless campaigns on deficit, debt and the threat to Australia from ever-changing but always nefarious foreign interests. Their goal is an anxious Australia, reinforced by the latest campaign applications of political neuroscience, permanently predisposing the electorate towards the reassurance of having conservatives in power.

For these reasons, there is no longer a level playing field in Australian politics. We won’t see another progressive government in Canberra until we deal with this cancer in our democracy. Three more things must change for Labor to be returned to office. Labor must significantly broaden its political base; demolish the entire rationale for the conservative political project now that the Liberal Party has abandoned its position on debt, deficit and government intervention in the economy; and put forward a clear plan dealing with the challenges ahead: recurring pandemics; demographic decline; technological disruption undermining economic competitiveness and employment; the rise of China; and the continued economic and environmental devastations of climate change. All four tasks are essential. All four will require great political courage to bring about fundamental change. And now is the time for women and men of courage to act.’




Bill Bowtell and Norman Swan

Literary Dinner – Bill Bowtell in conversation with Dr Norman Swan and MCed by Simon Burke

Literary Dinner – Bill Bowtell in conversation with Dr Norman Swan and MCed by Simon Burke – Monday 15 March, from 7pm

Soi 25 Restaurant, 296-300 Victoria St, Darlinghurst

We are pleased to return to the chic and spacious restaurant – Soi 25 – for this new literary dinner. This event has been made possible due to the support of Monash University Press and also the City of Sydney Night Time Diversification Program.

In-between enjoying a delicious Thai feast, Bill Bowtell, author of the new book Unmasked: The Politics of Pandemics. will be in conversation with Dr. Norman Swan. Actor/entertainer Simon Burke will be Master of Ceremonies for the evening.

Important Note: there is no physical ticket. Both the purchaser and The Bookshop retain a record of the ticket purchase. We need all names of those attending and relevant details (dietary requirements, seating preferences) for our door list. You will be ticked off the door list on the night when you arrive.

Pre-Dinner Shopping:

If you buy a ticket to the dinner you are entitled to a 15% discount on purchases in-store or online from Friday 12th to Monday 15 March. If you want to shop online we will provide you with a discount code. You are certainly very welcome to come to the shop prior to the dinner. Note – Soi 25 is a 900 metre walk from The Bookshop (10 to 15 minutes depending on your pace). It would be a five minute walk from Kings Cross train station.

We will have copies of Unmasked: The Politics of Pandemics for sale on the night and Bill Bowtell will be available to sign copies – this will be coordinated in a socially distanced fashion so that everyone feels comfortable. We will also have a small selection of other new titles available to peruse and purchase.

About the speakers:

Bill Bowtell AO is one of Australia’s foremost health policy strategists. As senior adviser to the Australian health minister, Bill Bowtell was an architect of Australia’s world-renowned response to the emergence of HIV/AIDS which brought together affected communities, researchers, clinicians and politicians, changing the course of the Australian pandemic and saving thousands of lives. For over four decades, Bill Bowtell has served in many roles and capacities at the intersection of health, development and politics in Australia and internationally. He served as a senior adviser to Australian prime minister Paul Keating. From 2005, Bill Bowtell led the advocacy organisation Pacific Friends of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and worked with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to increase funding and support for the Global Fund. Since early 2020, Bill Bowtell has written, broadcast and tweeted extensively on the Australian and international response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr Norman Swan was trained in paediatrics, and one of the first medically qualified journalists in Australia, with a broadcast career spanning more than 30 years. He currently hosts Radio National’s The Health Report and co-hosts Coronacast. He also reports on 7.30 and is a guest reporter on Four Corners; appears on The Drum and is an occasional host of Radio National Breakfast. In addition to being an active journalist and health broadcaster, Dr Swan has a deep strategic knowledge of the Australian healthcare system and is committed to evidence-based approaches to help young people, which is why he sits on the board of the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth. He was also the co-founder of Tonic Media Network, a health channel that plays in GPs’ waiting rooms.

Simon Burke made his acting debut at age 13 in the 1976 classic feature film The Devil’s Playground, winning the Australian Film Institute Best Actor award. Simon has appeared in over 130 stage productions in Australia and the UK. In London’s West End he has starred in The Sound of Music, Phantom of the Opera, A Little Night Music opposite Dame Judi Dench, La Cage Aux Folles and in the European premieres of the Australian classics Holding the Man and When the Rain Stops Falling. Australian musical theatre highlights highlights include Les Miserables, Anything Goes, Chicago, Mary Poppins and Pippin. Simon has appeared in countless television productions including Deep Water, Rake, Hustle, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, The Alice, Brides of Christ, Scales of Justice, Water Rats, South Pacific and Grass Roots, and for 25 years was one of ABC TV”s Play School’s best-loved presenters. His feature film credits include Passion, Pitch Black, Travelling Light and the forthcoming Super Awesome.

The menu for the banquet style dinner is as follows:


– Betel Leaf with Prawn and Scallop (can swap with crispy chicken toppings if a guest can’t have seafood)

– Satay Chicken

Main Course

Green Papaya Salad with prawn (can do vegan)

– Crispy Pork with Chinese Broccoli

– Red curry with duck

– Rice

All the above can be done Gluten Free

If anyone is unable to eat one of these 3 meat or seafood options, an alternate dish is available – Crispy Chicken Cashew Nut.

Vegetarian Option


– Betel Leaf with Tofu

– Vegetable Spring Roll

– Steamed Tofu mushroom

 Main Course

– Veg Green papaya Salad

– Stir fired Chilli jam with veg and tofu

– Yellow Curry Vegetable & Tofu

– Rice

Special dietary requirements can be catered for but we need to be informed well in advance – at the time of booking preferably. We recommend you contact The Bookshop Darlinghurst on 02 9331 1103 or by email info@thebookshop.com.au

The restaurant is BYO and so you may bring your own wine along. However, the restaurant is fully licensed and has an extensive wine and cocktail list, so if you prefer you can buy wine and drinks from the restaurant. This is certainly encouraged and would be a great support to the restaurant. However, please note all drinks must be paid for as they are ordered.

If you want to check the restaurant’s Drinks Menu or other details about the restaurant in advance, you can find it at this link – https://www.soi25.com.au

The seating for the event can be flexible so that everyone is seated in a safe and comfortable way. Tables can be for two or up to twelve people. In terms of sharing the food, four or multiples of four (eight, twelve) is the optimum number – though dietary requirements may cause some issues there. If you are booking for two, you can be seated at a table for two if you prefer. Or if you wish to sit with others and meet new people that can also be arranged. If you are booking as a single, you will end up sitting with others – possibly some Bookshop staff members or other single diners.

If you have a group of friends who all wish to be seated together, it will be simpler if one person buys the tickets for the entire group. If tickets are purchased individually or in smaller groups, please ensure clear directions are provided re the seating preferences.

If you are booking for several people, we need the names of all the people in your party. We will have a door list at the restaurant and will be ticking people off there. We will also need the names in case there is a special dietary requirement to be attached to anyone. It will not be necessary to bring your proof of purchase (whether online or in-store) on the night. We will have confirmed everything prior and if we have everyone’s details that will be adequate

Any enquiries about the event should be directed to The Bookshop Darlinghurst (02 9331 1103) and not to the restaurant. We recommend you telephone us then everything can be discussed and arranged more simply.

Note: during Covid-19, planning anything in advance can be extremely challenging. Therefore if anyone is unable to attend on the day, we are happy to provide a full refund of the ticket cost. Or if you wish to support The Bookshop, we can provide you with a Gift Voucher instead that you can spend on books, DVDs or other items.

If you should feel at all unwell on the day with cold/flu symptoms or believe you may have come into contact with someone exposed to Covid-19, we would ask that you not attend the event. We will issue a refund and hope to see you at our next literary dinner in 2021.




By News

Cathy goes to Canberra launch speech by Vice Chancellor Margaret Gardner

Margaret GardnerI’m delighted to welcome you to the official launch of Cathy goes to Canberra: Doing politics differently, by former federal independent MP and Monash alumna Cathy McGowan AO.

I’d like to begin by acknowledging the people of the Kulin Nations, and pay my respects to their Elders – past, present and emerging.

Well like many events this year, we’ve had to shift this book launch to an online format due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, which we’re all currently experiencing.

Nonetheless, we’re so pleased you could join us for this special occasion.

Cathy goes to Canberra tells the inspiring story of how a young girl from rural Victoria grew up to help pave the way for community success and real change in Australia’s political history.

This book is about just that – what a politically active community can do. As Ms McGowan calls it, “the Indi way”.

Raised on a dairy farm with her 12 siblings, Cathy McGowan’s strong passion for the land and farming life was engrained in her from a very young age.

Her dedication to education, along with her drive and perseverance to make change, combined to lead her to run as an independent for the seat of Indi in north-east Victoria at the 2013 election.

For those who might not be familiar with the division of Indi, the seat takes in Victoria’s snowfields and mountains, including eight major rivers that capture over 50 per cent of the water in the Murray-Darling Basin.

In the north are the larger urban centres of Wodonga and Wangaratta, and it runs as far south as Kinglake and Marysville – towns that were devastated by the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires.

Cathy McGowan was in her late 50s when she launched her campaign to become the next member for Indi, but by this age she was certainly no stranger to the world of politics.

Her father, Paul, was involved in the social organisations of the 1950s that led to the formation of the Democratic Labor Party, including the National Catholic Rural Movement, which promoted a vision of living the rural lifestyle and creating community in the country.

This commitment led him to become, in time, an active member of the Liberal Party, the Victorian Farmers Federation and a councillor for the local Shire of Chiltern.

Cathy, after finishing high school, completed an Arts degree at Monash University, majoring in history and economics. It  wasn’t a journey without its struggles, and the struggles were of different types.

The cover photo of the book shows Cathy in 1973 on her motorbike in her leathers, which was her way of overcoming lack of public transport to Monash at Clayton – something she notes is still a challenge.

And as she notes in her book, she failed her first year, but her parents’ high expectations when it came to education saw them encourage her to repeat that year, making up for the subjects she’d failed, while working in the nearby Peters ice-cream factory in Mulgrave.

So, despite the temptation to give up after that first year and return to her hometown to work on the family farm, Cathy says she’s thankful for her parents’ contribution to her life, because it was in that second year of university, working and studying, that she learned resilience – a resilience that she would continue to draw upon throughout her political career.

Cathy also holds a Diploma of Education from the University of Melbourne and a Master of Applied Science in agriculture and rural development from the University of Western Sydney. So that first experience didn’t discourage her from tertiary education.

In 1980 at age 26, after two years of being a teacher, Cathy took her first job in a political office for the then recently-elected Liberal member for Indi, Ewen Cameron.

Despite Cathy not being a “big ‘P’ Party person” and never imagining she would one day have a parliamentary career of her own, she very much enjoyed the work and learnt much from Ewen Cameron and his work as a local politician leading his community.

In 1983 she moved on, and set her sights on establishing her own consultancy business and, more importantly, working within her community.

And although Cathy doesn’t describe herself as a political person – in her words, she’s “political with a lowercase p” – her passion for the people in her community only became stronger over the years.

It was a phone call from her niece and nephew in 2012 that prompted the establishment of the group ‘Voices for Indi’, which began Cathy’s journey to Canberra, and over the next six years she’d go on to break many political records – she became the first female independent to sit on the crossbench; and in 2019 when she passed Indi on to another independent, Dr Helen Haines, that was also a first in Australian political history.

During her time as a politician, Cathy worked tirelessly to develop policy around regional development, a national integrity commission, a code of conduct for politicians, as well as drought policy.

She’s worked as a regional councillor for the Victorian Farmers’ Federation, and she’s a former President of Australian Women in Agriculture.

In 2004 she was made an Officer of the Order of Australia ‘for service to the community through raising awareness of and stimulating debate about issues affecting women in regional, rural and remote areas’.

Now, there’s much more in the book and I won’t give too much more away – I hope you will take it upon yourself to read this lively book – as lively and interesting as its main subject.

But I do want to leave you with some of the many life lessons and observations that Cathy notes throughout her story:

  • Her approach to politics and life, for example, is, and I quote, to “begin with the end in mind”.
  • She also encourages others to “never be afraid to talk to people and be willing to ask if you want to know how something works. That’s not only because it’s how you learn, it’s how relationships are forged, and ultimately they’re what count”.
  • And something Cathy says is relevant to her story is: “if you want to create change in your community, be willing to get involved in your community’s organisations”.

They’re all important lessons that we could all benefit from.

We’re very proud to add Cathy goes to Canberra to the Monash University Publishing collection of books, and we’re very pleased to now include Cathy McGowan in our list of published authors.

I’d like to take this opportunity to warmly congratulate Cathy on what is a wonderful memoir, and it’s a wonderful memoir of what is a wonderful life.

Please enjoy the rest of the launch, and thank you again for joining us.