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Byron Shire
February 8, 2023

Grassroots group in search for independent candidate

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Can You Hear Us members Ros Irwin and Bill Sheaffe at a listening station in Lismore. (file pic)
Can You Hear Us members Ros Irwin and Bill Sheaffe at a listening station in Lismore. (file pic)

Darren Coyne

A grassroots movement is making its presence known across the northern rivers by asking a simple question: Can you hear us?

The question is directed at politicians at both state and federal levels, who a growing number of disenchanted voters believe are failing to actually listen.

For example, councils across the region have sent a clear message to Macquarie Street in Sydney calling for the northern rivers to be declared gasfield free.

But it seems no one is listening.

After the Bentley blockade, which saw thousands of protectors face off against mining company Metgasco, the Lismore district founders of the movement went searching for a model that could help restore democracy to the northern rivers.

They visited Victoria where they say a group called Voice4Indi, ‘had used community consultation to develop policies that truly represented the wishes of the people who lived in that electorate and that now have a voice in Federal parliament’.

As a result of that visit, the group Can You Hear Us was formed. Its members wear teal-coloured shirts which send a message to Talk Engage Ask and Listen.

Former Lismore mayor Ros Irwin told Echonetdaily that the feedback so far had been overwhelming, with many people saying they had never been ‘so disenchanted with politics’.

‘They are saying we need people to truly represent us,’ she said.

Although the group would like to find an independent candidate to contest the March state election, no one has emerged as yet.

‘By holding kitchen table conversations around the electorate we’re hoping by November that somebody has thought about it,’ Ms Irwin said.

She said if the feedback from questionnaires was that Nationals MP Thomas George was the best candidate, then ‘we wouldn’t go any further’.

‘Being an optional preferential system people only have to vote 1, so there’s no flow of preferences,’ Ms Irwin, a political scientist, said.

‘Our message would be don’t waste your vote. Number each of the boxes.

‘About 50 per cent of voters only vote 1, which is sad because if a candidate gets less than 50 per cent they can still get in.’

Ms Irwin said the non-party political group had been out visiting markets across the northern rivers region, handing out questionnaires and kitchen table conversation kits.

‘We are aiming to have it all finished by the end of October,’ she said.

‘The state government election is in March so if someone did emerge who wanted to run, and a majority of people are saying it’s time to change, then we’d support them.’

The group can be found at canyouhearus.org

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  1. The Greens are definitely listening *and* acting. I’ve campaigned with the community for the past 2.5 years to have the region declared gasfield free, as have fellow Greens MPs in parliament. If elected, my first act would be to introduce legislation seeking cancellation of licences across the Lismore electorate. As would my fellow greens candidates in other seats. Our land and water are too precious and must be protected for food security long into the future.

  2. Unfortunately the headline gives the impression that Can you Hear Us is definitely looking for an independent candidate to contest the next election. That isn’t the case.

    The priority for our group is to find out what residents in the electorate are concerned about, what they like and don’t like about living in this beautiful place, how they feel about their political representatives across the board and what they’d like to see in our representatives. Can You Hear us will collate the information and present it to candidates at the next election, and as I said to Darren Coyne, it’s most unlikely any independent would want to stand given the optional preferential voting system.

    Our great hope is that voters would want to make an informed choice and that the candidates will be prepared to support the major concerns of this electorate.

    I strongly urge residents of the Lismore electorate to go to canyouhearus.org, have a look at what we’re doing and also complete the anonymous survey that’s there.


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