Sally Dillon was already running in the 2020 Brisbane City Council elections when we opened applications to sponsor aspiring women politicians to attend QUT’s first Pathways to Politics for Women program. One of 15 successful applicants, Sally shares with us her experiences of the program, and what she took away from it.
In Sally’s words…
I was a few months into my campaign for The Greens in Coorparoo Ward when I read about QUT’s Pathways program. It looked just what I needed. Although I was a successful community campaigner and had led volunteer teams to raise significant funds and run large events, in this election I was a first timer up against a return candidate and an incumbent. I needed next-level skills.
QUT had done an excellent job of attracting a stellar cast of professional development coaches and politicians from all parties and levels of government. Delivered in the last three months of my campaign, the course reinforced that I had the qualities needed to be both a high-calibre candidate and a politician who could serve my community by working for meaningful change.
The course covered the full process of getting elected, from deciding which party you wanted to align with (including the pros and cons of running as an independent) and how to get preselected, to tips on campaigning, identifying your key election issues, fundraising, working the media and social media, speech writing and presenting, and making policy. I was a sponge as I learnt tips on refining my message, communicating with voters, building a support base and setting up a team.
As we operated under the Chatham House Rule of confidentiality, our speakers shared intensely personal insights. It felt like we were being invited ‘into the tent’ as our mentors spoke from the heart about their experiences, and the highs and lows of political life. There were both tears and cheers, and I am grateful for their candour.
As well as innumerable tips I applied to my campaign, I took away from the course the confidence that I had great things to offer and the knowledge I could get elected. I was encouraged to be the positive change I wanted to see.
I learned to back myself, and this determination helped carry me through the final weeks of a campaign derailed not only by the Corona virus, but by a bicycle accident that saw me dislocate a shoulder and break both arms and one wrist, forcing me to spend a week in hospital and have surgery three weeks before the election.
Covid uncertainties meant the electoral commission rules changed every day, and I found myself on the pre-poll booth with both arms in slings, engaging with increasingly anxious voters. Doorknocks and letterboxing were cancelled and eventually candidates and volunteers were banned from the booths.
However, the hard work on my campaign cut through, and I won a 9.8% swing to come second in the two-party preferred contest.
I’m proud of my campaign’s outstanding community engagement achieved through listening, connecting, reflecting and skill building. I went from being a social media novice, composing my first Facebook post only seven months earlier, to running the electorate’s most successful Facebook campaign, gaining 1400 followers and an organic reach of almost 80,000 in the final month, with 11% engagement on reach. My strategies to engage the mainstream media also paid off, with a record 35 media articles, including three on radio and two on TV. I attended more than 80 community meetings and events and my wonderful volunteers helped doorknock more than 4000 people and letterboxed the neighbourhood several times over. My campaign messaging raised significant funds, recruited engaged volunteers and swung votes.
I was satisfied that I had run a competitive, nimble, fun campaign with my values at its heart. I felt I’d done what Ruth McGowan, guest presenter and author of the Get Elected handbook, had urged us to do: ‘Keep your humanity, your decency and your integrity.’
If this resonates with you then ask yourself, what’s stopping you from jumping into politics? Be confident that you have a right to take up space in the political sphere — what you believe in is important. I hope to see you on the campaign trail!
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