Sally Branson, new boss of the Victorian Nationals, breaks the party mould

By Darren Gray – The Age, 31 July 2016

The new party boss is young, understands the influence of social media and is a woman who lives in St Kilda East.

Traditionally, the National Party has been known as a party of farmers, represented mostly by male MPs. And in a number of cases over the years, at least in Victoria, many Nationals politicians have been ex-AFL footy players, or former country sports stars.

So Sally Branson, the new state director of the National Party of Victoria, breaks the mould.

But she is also one of a growing number of young women in the Victorian party in positions of influence. There are three women in the Victorian Parliament representing the Nationals, Stephanie Ryan, Emma Kealy and Melina Bath, who are all in their first term in Parliament.

Another Victorian woman, Bridget McKenzie, represents the Nationals in federal politics in the Senate.

“(Over) the last six years in Victoria we’ve gone from having one woman in our party room, to having three women, one of them being the deputy leader. So in Victoria I feel really proud to be a part of that team,” Ms Branson says.

While she now lives in inner-Melbourne, the 38-year-old grew up in “Colbo”, or Colbinabbin, a small town and farming district in north central Victoria where her parents were mixed farmers.

“I’m very proudly a country girl from Colbinabbin,” she says.

But she is also experienced in the world of Canberra politics, having been a press secretary for former prime minister Tony Abbott and former small business minister Bruce Billson. She is also a former member of the Liberal Party.

Ms Branson, who took up her role with the Nationals earlier this year, hopes to increase party membership and get more young people and women involved with the party. She also hopes the party can appeal to people who were raised in country Victoria but have moved to Melbourne for career or family reasons, and to other Melburnians who have a strong affinity with country Victoria.

“We need to build the membership, because we have no other option. So I really want to look at how we can share more messages about how we are relevant and how we are progressive on policy,” she says.

“We have a lot of women who are involved in the party, but there is a hesitancy to stand up and put their hands up, because they think that you can’t combine family and politics, and also that politics is a dirty game. Politics doesn’t have to be a dirty game,” she says.

She plans to extend the party’s social media footprint, recently established the Victorian Nationals’ first Snapchat account and is also considering the concept of “e-branches”, or electronic branches, for some members.

The party is also looking at new ways to communicate with members. “The reality is that we don’t have a lot of email addresses for our members, because our membership hasn’t traditionally been on email,” she says.

As well as being a former press secretary, Ms Branson has been a public affairs officer for the US embassy based at the consulate in Melbourne, a regional arts development officer in outback NSW and a former state Coalition staffer.