Government and governance, Social policy | Australia

28 April 2023

Helen Haines, the Independent Federal Member for Indi, joins us to discuss the unifying power of grassroots democracy and the major challenges Australia is facing in 2023.

Dr Haines discusses how kitchen table conversations had with humility and patience can bring people together. She talks about how people in regional Australia are reacting to the Voice Referendum and the power of the Uluru Statement of the Heart.  Haines outlines what regional and marginalised Australians want to see in the Federal budget based on the conversations had and the poverty so many of Australians are facing. Also discussed is what lessons can be learned from her seat of Indi around meaningfully engaging with, and listening, to the people that policies effect.

Listen here:


The Voice to Parliament

Helen Haines likens the Voice to Parliament to the Magna Carte document in its level of importance both in Australia but on a global level. She says that it is an invitation to the nation to go on a “journey of home and a step forward that unites us.”

In the context of this Dr Haines talks about how people in regional Australia are reacting to the Voice Referendum with her hearing comments about the fear of changing the constitution. She says that when talking people through the process, she describes the constitution as a “framework not a recipe book” and that as a politician it is her goal to implement change for the betterment of her constituents.


The struggles of people in regional Australia are another key issue for Dr Haines. With the upcoming federal budget, she says a focus needs to be on the poverty so many are facing. She says that the government controls the purse strings and that it’s “so obvious that we’ve fallen off the cliff” for people to put food on the table and survive and that it’s “abundantly clear that we need to raise JobSeeker.”

Haines says one way we can bring money into local economies is renewable energy. She’s hoping for a “gold rush” as regional Australia makes the transition. However, that also needs government funding and a change in policies. Currently people who are renting, or who have a low income have been unable to benefit from the technology or grants available. As the sector grows she hopes that it will create long term jobs for young people from trades all the way through to engineering so profits can stay on shore.

The strength of listening

Sharon and Arnagretta also discuss in this episode the importance of listening to people. Dr Haines says doing just that, is one of the key reasons Independents have been elected in the seat of Indi in the last four elections. She’s now working with a much bigger crossbench in parliament she says this adds more challenges, but also gives Independents the opportunity to put forward their ideas and hold the government to account more easily.


Helen Haines is the Independent federal Member for Indi. She worked as a nurse and midwife for decades before completing her PhD in medical science. She was elected in 2019, as the first Independent to follow an Independent in Australian history. Dr Haines was also re-elected in the 2022 election.

Sharon Bessell is Professor of Public Policy and Director of both the Children’s Policy Centre and the Poverty and Inequality Research Centre at ANU Crawford School of Public Policy.

Arnagretta Hunter is the Human Futures Fellow at ANU College of Health and Medicine, a cardiologist, physician, and a Senior Clinical Lecturer at ANU Medical School.


Show notes | The following was mentioned during this episode

The Indi Way: How a rural community sparked a social and political movement – Voices for Indi (2023)

Thomas Mayor recites the Uluru Statement (2019)

Climate Change Bill (2022)

Federal Independent Commission Against Corruption Bill (2022)

Mortgage Interest Payments in Advanced Economies – Reserve Bank of Australia (2023)

Default Market Offer 2023–24 draft determination – Australian Energy Regulator (2023)

Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee (2022)

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