With the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic still being felt, there’s no denying the significant shift in the political discourse within Australia.
Across electorates, people are demanding that politics be done differently.
This change in societal perspectives is driven by a growing voice for the future wellbeing of our planet, plus the desire for a more equitable and successful future, led with integrity, for future generations.
For Kate Chaney MP, Western Australia’s first female Independent Federal Member of Parliament in the House of Representatives, this push for change was the driving force behind her decision to campaign for office and one of the key takeaways at AIM WA’s Inspirational Leader Series breakfast.
Coming from an established line of Australian politicians – five relatives across four generations – it would seem fitting that Kate would join the “Chaney calling” and embark on this next chapter of leadership in the family story.
Yet as Kate stated, initially she had no particular interest in following the well-worn path into politics.
“I had seen the advertisement the grassroots community group Curtin Independent had put in the paper in search for an Independent candidate and someone had said ‘You should put your hand up,’ " she said.
"And I laughed at them and said, ‘What a terrible idea, why would anyone do that?’ ”
It was not until two close friends approached Kate separately to ask if she would be willing to have a conversation with the community group that Kate thought it wouldn’t hurt.
For Kate, this conversation was the turning point as she discovered the similarities in concerns shared towards the division of politics at a national level.
“There was a shared frustration about the lack of optimism, lack of compassion, lack of long-term thinking and a focus on politics rather than policy,” she said.
“I decided I'd regret it if I didn’t campaign. I would regret not doing it more than I would regret doing it.”
Politics is a lot less scary if you just do what you think is right
In 2022, Kate won a seat in parliament with a 15.2 per cent swing and has set an example for leading with integrity and transparency, demonstrated by her strong engagement with the local community.
“I’ve been a part of this wonderful and positive community that believes we can do things differently and is actually willing to act on that,” she said.
“As an Independent, you have both the freedom and the weight that comes with that independence."
“I try to engage deeply with my community and usually there are multiple perspectives on an issue.
“You must listen to everything that you can and ultimately do what you think is right.”
With such a heavy weight of responsibility, Kate spoke about the internal struggles of coping with imposter syndrome and self-doubt.
“I do constantly have to fight the internal narrative of ‘I don’t know enough, I’m not doing enough, I should be more across this and that,’ because there is an endless scope of issues that I feel like I need to be across,” she said.
“So, I will just keep saying that all I can do is my best and I think people generally understand that.”
Pushing for change, one nudge at a time
For a leader who has been so instrumental in seeking change, Kate spoke about how it was not only up to the leaders of our nation but also its citizens to keep pushing forward.
“Whether you're a High Court judge, Federal Member for Parliament or someone in your community, you just have to keep nudging things in the right direction,” she said.
“Eventually the combination of nudges shifts things. You never know if you are the first, the last or the one of many, but that’s how change happens.”
As an example, Kate highlighted a 90-second statement she made in Parliament on reforming abortion – requesting that Western Australian women have the same accessibility rights to abortion as other states in Australia.
“There were then nine media stories that followed from that and the State Health Minister ended up saying they’re doing a review into it,” she said.
“Now I'm not saying that that came from my statement but sometimes these nudges do contribute.”
The future of democracy
Whether it is waking up at 4:00 am to attend online meetings in Canberra or juggling three children across three different high schools, it is without a doubt Kate has a busy schedule.
Yet with an urgency for change backed by a keen sense of community, Kate says it is worth any personal sacrifices or inconveniences.
“I feel optimistic about Australia's future and the future of democracy,” she said.
“I think when you achieve something quite unlikely, like the election result, it makes you look at other things that are unlikely and think that they might be possible too.
“It's a pretty dreadful lifestyle, but it feels worth it so that makes a huge difference. It’s the hardest and the most rewarding job I've ever had.”
A career of more than two decades in law, strategy, management and community services has helped prepare Kate for what she hopes to achieve in Parliament.
“Every time I've changed worlds, I've had to adjust and it's very humbling because over time you end up thinking ‘this is how you do stuff,’ ” she said.
“It’s good to keep your mindset fresh and be reminded that there are different ways of thinking and working.
“I think there are great ideas that come from multiple perspectives. Being able to look at those and then make a judgment is how I think politics should be done.”
Perception ‘vs’ reality
A key point Kate touched on was the difficult choice a leader may find themselves having to make – that of choosing between having an impact or being seen to have an impact.
In Parliament, this is quite apparent. As Kate shared, you can either have a quiet conversation with the Government on an issue and any action taken is behind the scenes, or you can choose to make a stand in the media, where action may or may not be taken, but you are seen to be vocal on the subject.
“That’s a really interesting choice to make where you have to decide, am I here because of the substance, because of what I want to do? Or because I want to get re-elected and be seen to be doing the right thing?” she said.
“I agonise over every vote and I do hear strong opinions from constituents on both sides of most issues.
“Yet [as a leader] your role is not to just take a vote on everything, but to also lead, do the research and come to an informed decision, then explain that decision to constituents rather than just go with whatever you're getting the most noise on.”
Words of wisdom
Climate responsibility, Federal Government integrity, equal economic opportunities and connected communities are just some of Kate’s commitments. And with a promising career ahead, she is showing no signs of slowing down.
“I feel like I'm part of a movement that is a really hopeful thing for Australian politics and it's very exciting to have been in the right place at the right time to be part of that,” she said.
“I don’t know exactly where it’s heading but I do think it is a constructive change.”
Kate hasn’t fully decided yet if she will campaign for office again after her three-year tenure.
“I think coming in with that thought now is the wrong approach. I’m there to do what I can now.”
Regardless of what the future may hold, Kate continues to push forward and do politics differently.
“My parting thoughts would be, don't just wait for someone else to do it if you think that there's something that needs to change.
“We actually are the system … And we have to own that and take responsibility for it.”