It is generally agreed that we are living in a time of disconnection between the general population and their elected politicians. Despite being bombarded by a 24-hour news cycle, voters are tuning out.
Theories abound to explain this phenomenon. Low levels of trust coupled with high levels of cynicism for politics, politicians and our political system are most commonly quoted as the reason for this disconnection.
“Voters just feel they aren’t being heard any more,” says Gillian Anderson, Co-Convener of Voices 4 Cowper (V4C) (pictured above far left). V4C is a non-party political group, formed post the Federal election in 2019 with the purpose of facilitating a more meaningful connection between the people of Cowper and our local member.
“We are a group of local people who have come together to facilitate a process called Kitchen Table Conversations within the federal electorate of Cowper. Drawing from these conversations we will gather community ideas and concerns to present to our political representatives,” says Gillian.
Kitchen table discussions are literally that- a group of people sitting around the kitchen table discussing matters of importance to them. Based on a tried and tested model, this engagement process allows diverse views to be heard and given equal respect, to foster a wider involvement in democratic decision-making.
This process encourages positivity and provides a safe place where people feel heard. “The aim is to build and deepen a sense of community and explore the range of opinions on an issue. It fosters community organising and can stimulate and nurture public debate,” says Gillian.
The formation of V4C was inspired by the work of Mary Crooks of the Victorian Women’s Trust, who has worked on The Purple Sage Project, Our Water Mark, a project that looked at water reform in Victoria,and Voices4 Indi.
A recent V4C Kitchen Table Discussion (pictured above), kindly invited me to participate. I was impressed by the range of issues covered, the diversity of opinions expressed but more so, the respect shown by the participants for this diversity. In a time of polarisation of opinion and angry debate on social media, this format was refreshing. And in the end all agreed on one thing- the need to preserve and grow our strong community spirit.
“A main objective is to give interested parties an opportunity to learn from and share with each other, create a sense of community, and discuss options and alternatives,” says Gillian.
The Facilitator at each ‘conversation’ raises questions about local community values, political representation and issues of concern. Each participant is given time to address the questions posed. “Kitchen Table Conversations have been happening across the Cowper electorate now for months. We want this process to include people from right across the political spectrum, to help us meet and hear from as many Cowper voters as possible.”
As expected there is a great contrast in the opinions of voters, particularly considering the size of our electorate. However, Facilitators have noted that in general, a conversation around the kitchen table will often reveal that many of us want the same things. And foremost is to be heard.
V4C convenors meet with our Federal Member Pat Conaghan very soon to present the findings and views of the electorate. “The final report will be a powerful document encompassing what the people of Cowper love about their community and what they want from their political representative. Its goal is to reinvigorate the connection between voters and their member,” says Gillian.
Based on the precedents set in the other electorates that have adopted this model in the past, one can only imagine that our local member will be all ears.
There is still time to have your voice heard. If you would like to be involved in a Kitchen Table Conversation please register on their website www.voices4cowper.org