There’s been a rise in female independents vying for a seat in federal parliament, willing to pause successful careers, and step away from family commitments. What makes a woman take that challenging leap, step out of her comfort zone, and take such a big, public risk? Dr Sophie Scamps is one such woman; a successful GP, mother of two, and now independent candidate for Mackellar in Sydney. Dr Sophie and host Amelia Phillips discuss the why behind her stepping forward (If not you then who? If not now then when?) and how she manages the pressure of risk taking (and stepping into your ‘sphere of fear’), balancing family life and offers brilliant advice for anyone considering going for a bigger goal.
About the guest:
Dr. Sophie Scamps is the independent candidate for Sydney’s Mackellar electorate, with a focus on climate, economy, health and integrity. She has been a doctor for 23 years, studied at Oxford Uni, qualified for the 1992 Olympics and held the 800m gold medal record in the world junior champs for 37 years. Prior to becoming a GP, Sophie served the community in the Emergency Department of Mona Vale Hospital, and she is also the founder of Our Blue Dot, a community-led NGO helping to reduce local impacts on the environment. Sophie, having recently turned 50, and her family live in Avalon, and have lived in the Mackellar electorate for 22 years.
Find out more about Sophie and her campaign here
Below is an unedited transcript of the podcast episode:
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never really been that into politics. That was until a woman, a mother called Zalie Steegle stood up and campaigned against the infamous Tony Abbott to win the independent seat of Ringer back in 2019. But you know what my first thought was? My first thought was what made her do it?
I mean, here we have this very successful lawyer. She’s got two kids. Why blow up your life like that? But since then, we have seen a rise of women put their hat in the ring and run for an independent seat in federal parliament. And it just got me wondering what makes us step up, step out of our comfort zone and go for that B a g or what I call a big, hairy, audacious goal, whether it’s in work, fitness.
Politics or life.
This is healthy her with Amelia Phillips. Now with an election looming, many of us are starting to look to our local electorate and what options we have to vote other than just liberal labor or maybe. This year we’re seeing some new female independents joining the race. We’ve got Za of course, but then there’s a Allegra spender in Wentworth in Sydney’s East, Kalia Tin in North Sydney.
Zoe Daniel in Goldstein, In Melbourne’s Bayside suburbs, we’ve got Professor Monique Ryan and Kuong in the inner suburbs of Melbourne, Georgia Steel, and Linda Seymour and Hughes. Maybe there’s a female independent in your. Today I am joined by independent candidate Dr. Sophie SCOs, who is running in the tightly held blue ribbon liberal electorate of Mackellar on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.
Now, Dr. Sophie SCOs has been a doctor for 23 years. She studied at Oxford Uni, qualified for the 92 Olympics in 800 meter athletics, and is still a record holder plus a gold medalist in the world Junior. Prior to becoming a gp, Sophie served in the community, in the emergency department at Movale Hospital.
Can you imagine what that would’ve been like? And she’s also the founder of our Blue Dot, a community led NGO helping to reduce local impacts on the environment. Sophie, having recently turned 50, her husband, a former Wallaby and their three children aged 16, 14, and 12, live in Avalon and have lived in the Mackellar electorate for 22.
Dr. Sophie, thank you so much for joining me today. Oh, thank you, Amelia. It’s lovely to be here with you. Oh, well, talk me through your journey into politics. I mean, I just have to ask you, why would you blow your life up like this? . Exactly. . Look, it has been a journey apps. And I never imagined that I would be in politics like this, but it comes out of, you know, an imperative to act basically.
So the way that I got involved was, I think I’ve been worried about climate change for a couple of decades, and I, I had the sense that, you know, our government would act on it and, and, you know, they would lead on this. But then it became increasingly clear that they weren’t going to act. And what actually happened was I started to have this sense of, you know, powerlessness in a way.
And that I needed to do something. And then I was having a conversation with my 12 year old son and his friends. Just a gentle conversation about climate change. It came up and I said, Oh, this is going to be an issue for you kids. And one of the 12 year old boys, beautiful boys, said, Yes, yes, because you adults have failed us.
Oh, wow. Yeah. Yeah. And I went, Yep. Yeah, we have like, we’ve left it up to the kids. I think that the school strike for climate change had just been on and I thought, we’ve left it up to the children to act on this. This is their futures, but we adults, we need to step up to the plate. It’s, it’s time to step up.
So I made a decision at that time that I would do whatever I could to act on climate change. And it was a really interesting, I mean that, that first step into. Um, community development, I decided I needed to do what I could. So I thought, let’s do something locally. And for years I’d always said, Well, you know, I’d like to do this, We should do this.
But as soon as I changed my language into I’m doing this, I’m starting this group to act locally on, you know, reducing carbon emissions and waste, people just jumped on. They said, How can I help? You know, So that just changed in, Yeah, it was quite amazing. Just that. Tiny change in language, but it was a change in mindset as well as from we should be doing this to, I’m doing this.
And all of a sudden we had a group of people that were really inspired and, and coming together was this amazing sort of sense that we can get stuff done. And, you know, that sense of powerlessness and helplessness went to one of, let’s get the job done. And it’s really flowed from. That’s really interesting, and I know what you mean.
It’s, you know, you can sort of sit there and you’re scrolling through your phone and you know you’re outraged or horrified by what you see, and you might sign a petition or something like that, but you do feel very powerless. So really like that idea that actually changing that mindset is, mm. Is really important where I’m going to do something and Yeah.
You know, it doesn’t have, I mean, you, you of course you, I’ve, I’m starting to gather, you’re a little bit of an overachiever . My most of us would, you know, maybe go to a rally, but no, you went the whole hog. What made you actually go from starting in that community role of just, you know, doing something on carbon emissions to then getting you to actually throwing your hat in the independent ring?
Look it. Absolutely a journey, and I would never have imagined, like we, we started as an apolitical group, but we were talking to our politicians as well. Because what we wanted to do was let the people representing us know that the community felt really strongly about action on climate change and, you know, worried about the future for our children and things like that.
We thought, well, once they know and they hear from us, , yeah. You know, they’ll start to act. But it became pretty clear, particularly at a federal level, that the capacity to act and listen to the community just wasn’t there. The first loyalty is to the party, and so there’s always a party line to toe. So stepping up into this, I’ve since come to learn from Kathy McGowan about this sense that, you know, if not you, then who?
And if not now, then when. And that very much was what I came to understand myself. You say that I’m an overachiever, but I was definitely looking around for somebody. To lead this. I was like, Who can lead this? Who, who’s that type of person? And then there was this final realization, Come on Sophie, that person is you.
Wow. And it’s, it’s actually all of us. Oh, that’s inspiring. I just got goosebumps. . Yeah. Yeah. And look, it is, it’s amazing. Like I said, that change in mindset, Okay, it’s me. I’m doing this is where all of this has come from. I would never have imagined that I’d be running as an independent candidate in the federal government.
Yeah. But it’s just this journey. Once you make that decision that you are going to take action and that you’re going to take control, and that you are going to, you step up yourself, then, then things just happen. So Kathy McGowan, she’s sort of the matriarch of this community independent movement, and she says, I’ll get more into that later.
But she says, Now when you realize that there’s only us here, there’s no cavalry coming over the hill to save us, there’s just us. Then you realize that you need to step up and you need to be the one that steps up and takes on these roles. That kind of leads me to my next question, which was why do you think we are seeing more and more women stepping up?
I mean, I don’t know if it’s just cuz I’ve taken more of an interest in politics, but there just seems to be so many more female independent stepping up. Why is. Oh look, it’s an interesting phenomenon and the other thing you realize is most of us are mothers, or all of us are mothers as well. So there’s this deep set of, I think a huge motivation is, you know, looking out for the best for our children.
Yeah, I know that personally, that is my biggest motivation because obviously it’s taking me away from my children and giving attention to my children. And the way that I, I think is I’m actually doing it for them for a number of reasons. Want to make sure that they have a much more secure and safe and prosperous future.
That’s what we all want for our children. Yeah. But two, the other thing is the children and everyone needs to know that their voice deserves to be heard. And so this is, you know, being a role model in a way that you can step up, the community can come together and make a real difference. So it’s been that role model for people as well.
And we are really trying hard to bring young people in because a lot of, a lot of people generally are disengaged because they’re just thinking, nobody’s listening, nobody’s hearing them. You just feel powerless. I mean, I know that growing up. Always lived in these blue ribbon, tightly held electorates. I clearly remember my, my husband when we were newly married and I started asking, Who are you gonna vote for?
And what are you, We should do more research. He’s like, There’s no point. You know, we live in this electorate, it’s been a liberal seat for years. You can vote who, whoever you want, but it just doesn’t matter. And I, it wasn’t until I watched Za. Holy moly. Like there is an opportunity here for us, you know, everyday moms and people.
Yeah. To make that change. Yes, absolutely. So why, why do you think we need more women in politics? When you look at that, you know, you look at federal parliament, you look at question time. Would you like to see that? 50 50, at least 50 50. And why? Yes, exactly. I mean, you it that our parliament is supposed to represent our society and at the moment it doesn’t.
There’s not the diversity and you can see that playing out in the culture around women. You know, that’s just been a very toxic culture and that needs to change. It’s decades behind from what we would expect in our leader. It needs to be an example for the rest of the country as well. But also, having said that, there’s a lot of evidence around that if you have more women at the top of organizations, means that there’s greater productivity and profitability of those organizations.
And even throughout covid, the companies that were more likely to fail were the ones that didn’t have that gender diversity. So 37% more likely to fail during Covid. Yeah. Is that right? Yep. So it’s this sort of difference you bring a. Of mindset, potentially. Um, and, and, and a new contest of ideas as well.
I mean, in my naivety about Parliament, as I mentioned earlier, I always felt like an independent doesn’t really have any power in Parliament. And am I throwing my vote away by voting for an independent? Because what can they actually do? Can you give me some examples of where independence can wield some power in, in par?
Mm. Yeah, exactly. Well, I think the number one power of an independent is you have the freedom to genuinely represent the electorate and their values and their concerns. So if you have a party, somebody who’s represented you, who’s a, who’s a member of a party, then there’s all sorts. Of other kind of influences that come in.
So what we found here in our electorate in Mackellar is that our member sort of is dictated to how to vote by, you know, people in the Nationals party and the rest of his party. So it doesn’t necessarily reflect what the people in his electorate wants. And this is Jason Fensky and the Liberal Party.
Yeah, that’s correct. If you think about what’s happened recently in Canberra with the Religious discrimination Bill and the sex discrimination bill, I mean, it was the independents who, who were able to vote with their conscience to make sure that vulnerable people weren’t discriminated against. So that is an extremely powerful thing, and it meant that for the first time in a very long while, there were able to be other members of the liberal party who crossed the floor.
But you know, it really was the independence that drove. Is that right? That’s really interesting. So the independents were the ones that kind of challenged the bill and created that groundswell and maybe then allowed for some of the liberal members to cross the floor against their own party. Yeah, so they had enough numbers to do it and they made amendments as well.
Like they were not gonna vote in support of it if there wasn’t these amendments and they, you know, they didn’t Anyway. But the other really powerful thing is that there’s a couple of really powerful things. As an independent one, as I said, you can genuinely represent the views and the values of your.
Electorate, but you can also raise issues of concern as bills. And so this is what has been really powerful in the last few years, is somebody like Helen Haynes, who’s the independent for Indy Regional Victoria, she’s done a lot of work and introduced a bill on the Federal Integrity Commission. So the introduction of a anti-corruption watchdog, kind of like an eye a, but for federal politics.
Cuz it blew my mind that there, that one doesn’t exist. I, again, in my naive, just assumed, of course there would be one at federal. I think most people assume that there would be one. You think about all the organizations around the country that have, um, regulation agencies in the one body, the most powerful body in the country doesn’t.
And, and we are also seeing, you know, corruption and use of public money to buy more votes. You know, it’s definitely needed, but it’s certainly an issue that the government. Well, it’s hidden in the shadows, but what an independent has done is they’ve raised it as a bill, so it’s now in the public discourse all the time.
The the media’s onto it, the public are talking about it. Yeah. And so it becomes this sort of peer pressure in a way. The government is forced to act on it, so they’ve been dragged there. Kicking and screaming to introduce a Federal Integrity Commission. And the same thing happened with Ziegel when she introduced the climate change bill.
So independents are really powerful in sort of influencing public debate and public sentiment. Yeah. So it’s quite extraordinary, really. And I guess that’s the power of having someone genuinely represent your electorate. You know, someone who, you know, in there for the electorate, not because they’re a career politician and they’re hoping to be treasurer one day or maybe prime minister one day, so they’re gonna tow the party line and they’re not gonna ruffle any feathers Versus an independent who is absolutely out there and being, you know, the voice of the people.
That’s exactly right. The peak of my ambition is to give this electorate a true voice in Canberra, and that’s what people want. I haven’t talked about it yet, but we’d sat down through this Voices movement that we started as well, just listening. So the first step is just listening to people and what they want.
What are the issues that are really important to people? And so we listen to, you know, hundreds of people in these, quite in depth conversations and just. Ask people what’s important to you and what solutions would you like to see? And that’s the first step. You can’t really represent your electorate unless you know what people want, you know, Otherwise you’re not representing them.
So it was this extraordinary process because we’ve been brought up to not talk religion, politics, or, Or money. Yeah. But when you give people a safe opportunity and a respectful opportunity to talk politics, but really you’re not talking politics. Talking about what’s important to you. Yeah. What are the issues that are important to you?
People love it, and people do have strong opinions, you know, about what type of society they want to live in and what type of future they want to build for our country and our children. So, you know, it’s a really important thing to get engaged in. So these conversations, people have found them almost exhilarating to finally have that opportunity.
Yeah. To feel like their, their voice is finally being heard. Yeah. Yep.
But then the other side of it, and, and I sit here today with two hats on. I sit here just, you know, fascinated about politics and your move into politics, but then I also sit here with my ambitious woman hat on thinking about, you know, whether it’s getting into politics or going for the, the board role or something like that.
The fear. People have about stepping up and stepping out, and in your particular case, politics is a really dirty game with, you know, lots of potential for mud slinging. I see those sessions in Parliament that go till four in the morning with them screaming at each other. How are you feeling about the pressure of stepping into that ring and are you prepared for the stress and the pressure?
You’re gonna, and probably the mud slinging that you’re gonna receive and have to give maybe Look, the thing is the mud sling’s already started, but we definitely, and I particularly really wanna run just a positive campaign focused on our agenda and our solutions. We don’t need to go down there, it just doesn’t need to happen.
Are you a resilient person by nature or is it freaking you out? Like are you sitting here going, Oh my goodness, Or are you like a resilient person by nature? Look, I think I am a resilient person, definitely. And I, I’ll talk about that, but definitely. A conscious decision to step into the fear and I, I had to make that decision.
This is uncomfortable for me, but my motivations for doing it are, you know, I can’t. Counteract them. So I need to step into that fear that that sphere of discomfort. And the thing is, once you are stepping into that fear or that discomfort, it then becomes your sphere of comfort. So that becomes more comfortable, it becomes more normal, and then you keep going.
So for me, I had to make a conscious decision. All right, let’s step into it. I was getting the tap on the shoulder. Come on Sophie. It’s you come. And I was like, Okay, I’ve gotta, I’ve gotta come to terms with this. And so of course I, you know, chatted to my husband and, and kids and all of that. But I think with that, because as you said before, I was a competitive athlete, and so I have this experience and this long experience of putting myself in the race.
And stepping into that sphere of both mental and physical discomfort. And I remember this was years ago, but I remember being on the start line and I, I did run every race to win. You know, I always wanted to win. I was highly competitive. But, um, I remember being on the start line and I would think to myself, because I ran 800 meters, which is a really painful race.
It is like the most painful 800. For, for those, uh, not so sporty people. It’s part way between , aerobic and anaerobic. Yeah. So it’s basically you’re running too fast to be in your aerobic zone, but you can just get there cuz you’re running for too long. You can’t be anaerobic. So it literally is like vomit material Yeah.
Vomit material. Exactly. So you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck. Yeah. And at the end of it. Um, and so I would, I would be on the start like thinking, Sophie, this is going to hurt. Like anything, this is going but it’s not gonna kill. And so I would just put my head down and go for it. You know? I love that.
Just put everything into it. So that’s one thing. And then the other thing, also just the life of being a doctor. I mean, in the nineties I worked at Westmead Hospital. It was a very challenging time because the long hours and this. Stress and all of that and, and everyone in the hospital system was under stress.
Yeah. And so it was really quite a difficult situation to work in. And that there’s a reason why I think the highest level of suicide in a profession is, is the medical profession. Yeah. But it was very, very tough. And I’ve worked in emergency in those high le, high pressure situations making critical decisions.
Oh my gosh. If that’s not resilience building, then I don’t know what is. Yeah. And I used to, when I first used to go to work, I used to, Feeling of discomfort. Okay, this is, this is, you know, this big, you know, going to work. I’d be sort of nervous in a way when I first started in the emergency department, but it’s something that you become very comfortable with and in, you know, absolutely love, you know, working in the team, the whole thing.
Yeah, that’s a really interesting point. If you said to me, Amelia, go and work in emergency from next week, the feeling of discomfort. Mm-hmm. would be so powerful. Like you said, once you were in there for a while, it became that sphere of comfort. That’s a really interesting message for all of us to hear when we’re thinking about stepping out of our comfort zone.
Yeah, yeah. The other element I wanted to ask about though is the family element, and you mentioned earlier a lot of these independents are moms, which is really encouraging, but many of us, you yourself included, have families to consider. How did you. The impact that this might have on your family and, and weigh up that decision?
Hmm. Like I said, it comes down to the reason I’m doing this. My main motivation is for them because I want them to have a good future. And I, I actually think a lot of us are motivated by this. You know, a lot of these independent women are motivated by the same thing. And I always say it takes a village to, you know, we always say it takes a village to.
Our children. So we all are worried about the future generations. And so you know, we keep hearing again and again and we all feel the same. We could no longer stand on the sideline watching this slow train wreck happening. We have to step in and do what we can to sort of bring about a positive outcome because there can be these positive outcomes.
If there’s the political will, we know we have the solutions. So it’s just changing the mindset and the political will, and I think that’s why. Has just said enough’s enough. We’re taking over. What you’ve actually done there is you’ve talked about why you’re doing it from a community perspective and your children included, which is, you know, very selfless of you.
But then what about your immediate family? Like, were they supportive of you? Were you, Yeah. Did you need to kind of convince them? I mean, how do they feel about, you know, their mom’s now famous and in the public eye and on the side of cars and you know, and everyone’s front guard. I mean, life goes on. I should say my husband is hugely supportive.
Uh, he’s had to step up, like he’s had to step up a lot into the housework role. And it was really good actually. I met up with Za and her husband recently and her husband was fantastic. He sort of took my husband aside and said, Look, I just took on everything. And so when we got home from that lunch, my husband, I noticed he got around and started cleaning up the house and doing all that stuff.
I thought, Oh, that’s fantastic. But the kids, their lives go on. They are a little bit older. Good. It is definitely more difficult for them. My 12 year old daughter is horrified that my face is on the side of our car because she’s 12 turning 13 and she’s at that stage where everything your mother does is highly embarrassing.
So . So the poor state, not only is it not just, you know, dropping you off and giving you a kiss and a bit of spit on the cheek to, you know, rub the Vegemite off, but you’re actually splashed all over the car. . I know, but they get used to, So there’s this kind of. When, when she went back to school, she was like, What am I gonna say to everyone?
You know, they’re all gonna know, you know, it’s a sort of, And I said, Don’t worry about it. They’ll talk about it for two seconds and then they’ll forget. And she did. I said, How was it? She said, Oh yeah, they were all really excited. But you know, there was about a three second conversation and then life moves on.
It’s just what happens and, and the legacy. See you will leave behind. Will you know far outweigh any of those early teenage angst moments? That’s right. And my eldest son has Aspergers and he just loves it. He just is, Oh mom, you’re doing such a good job. You’re doing really well. So he’s like the biggest chi they, They are.
They’re really, everyone’s really supportive because they know it’s such an important thing. So good on them. Sounds like as a family, you’ve made this decision as a family. Yeah. And that makes a unit so much tighter. For someone listening today. Of course, if you live in Mackellar, voting for you is a no brainer.
Let’s just say it out loud. But for everyone else, if they’re curious to learn more about their local independent, how would they find out if they have a local, independent? Are they female? What do they stand for? Where do they go? I think, um, probably first thing is to find out what electorate you live in, so you can find that out.
I’ll probably just do a Google search, you know, electorate, whatever suburb you’re in, or look at the, um, Australian Electoral Commission and then I think just do a Google Cert independent for whatever electorate you’re in and it’ll pop up. Odds are that you might have somebody, because lots of people are popping up.
It’s a real movement. There’s a real. That we need to bring back genuine representation into our democracy. And so look, I think there’s been, Oh, I can’t even, I’ve lost count sort of in the teens, you know, probably almost, you know, definitely in the teens, mostly women, community independence that have come up.
Yeah. Wow. That’s really encouraging. And I think, I think it’s good, like, just have a look at what people stand for beforehand, so that you have, before you go there on election day. I mean, one thing I’ll say, your vote is vitally important, you know, in, in any democracy. But also just engaging yourself and finding out what are the issues that you are important to you and finding the person that reflects them and even stepping up to support that person.
Cuz as I say, we need a strong democracy. Absolutely needs the participation of its people. You know, the more people who are engaged and participating, the stronger our democracy is. And what’s been happening over recent years is people, and understandably so, and I was the same at disengaging, because you feel that you’re not.
Heard and represented. So if you’re involved, you know, that strengthens our democracy. Whatever your flavor of politics. Finally, Dr. Sophie, for a woman listening today who wants to take that big leap, whether it be into politics or the job promotion, or joining a board or entering a half marathon, what parting advice would you like to give them?
I think it’s really important to think about what’s important to you and what your goals are, and do something small every day to head towards that goal. And then the other thing, as we chatted about before, Stepping into that sense of fear. That’s okay. It’s okay to be uncomfortable and doing it anyway.
And then that becomes your sphere as comfort, and then you move on from there. So look, fear is okay. You know, , it’s uncomfortable, but it’s okay. You know? That’s one thing I think we need to get used to. I love that. Yeah. Step into the sphere of fear. . . Oh, that’s funny. We need to capture that. Yeah. Yeah, exactly.
Oh, that’s hilarious. Oh, thank you, Dr. Sophie. Fascinating chat today. Thanks Amelia. Thanks for taking the time.