Before I went into politics, I had twelve years in private practice as a chiropractor. Whilst I’d always been politically interested, and I’d been a Liberal party member for a long time; it was really only in the late 80s and early 1990s that I got involved in politics. Sometime in the early ‘90s (I didn’t run for seat in 91, 92) you had a very strong feel about where the state was going. Victoria was terribly positioned nationally and then Jeff Kennett came in. I didn’t come in until ’96 and until now, I’ve been one of the survivors, as it were, who’s been through government’s, opposition government and in opposition now.
I think Victoria has got to be very careful about her future. When we were in government from 2010 to 2014, we were very focused on securing a financial base and that’s put Victoria in a very strong financial position. We weren’t in that strong position in 2010 and although it sounds a bit old-fashioned, you actually do need to make sure that the state is in a financial position to go and complete the projects she can and create the headroom. We created a lot of that headroom in the state budget by controlling costs. That was important, that’s really important.
There’s some basic mechanisms and formulas to living and breathing politics. You need to listen, you do need to move around, you do need to talk to people, you do need to understand industries and that is what I’m doing at the moment. I’ve got planning and local government. I’m constantly moving around the state, talking to the planning and construction industry and also local government. There’s a deliberate choice to bring those two back together, obviously planning is a major issue with respect to delivering outcomes to construction.
There’s a world of difference between metropolitan and regional councils. You’ve got very strong confident councils in metropolitan Melbourne and you have some very strong regional councils as well, but you also have councils in country Victoria in some of the areas where population has been falling and they face some real challenges. We have been very forward on that.
Planning is, of course, contentious. Because you’re actually making decisions about complex things that have economic, heritage and liveability consequences. You’ve got a whole matrix of issues. Planning is a really central influence on your future and on the shape of your city. Mathew Guy had put in place some really important economic signs, focused on job creation and employment in different areas of the city, which could actually underpin population growth in and around those employment clusters.
The new government has come in, they said initially they were committed to Plan Melbourne and were going to make some minor changes. But I would argue that now those changes have become much more major and this is not mere tinkering or minor incremental improvement. This is wholesale change and that is exactly what they said they weren’t going to do. I think we’re right at a cusp of problems. You know there has been virtually no new applications to planning since those changes were made.
Qualities to be a good Politician? it’s a million dollar question! My advice to people coming into political life (and there are notable exceptions to this), but I think it’s been invaluable to have had another career and to have actually been successful in that career. To have dealt with business, understanding and people. There’s a lot to learn out there and in any career whether you’re an architect or a pub owner, there’s actually a lot of knowledge to add. Have another career, but keep politically involved in a political party or in your professional organizations. It is a great way to understand politics from, whilst still building on your professional knowledge.
I was reading a wonderful chapter in the book called Menzies and the Shaping of Modern Australia, edited by John Nethercote about Sir Robert Menzies. Menzies formed the liberal party in 1944. At that time, the conservative side of politics was in a very bad state. Labor was in power. He’d been Prime Minister for a year or two, in 1941, but he’d lost the Prime Ministership. He realised the conservative forces needed to be united. He got together all of the disparate elements; the Young Nationals, the old United Australia Party, and a number of the smaller groups. The key organization that he brought on board was a group called the Australian Women’s National League which was the biggest political organisation in Australia. It was bigger than the Labor Party, bigger than the UAP and he brought them on board in Victoria. It was a really important foundation for the Liberal Party and the deal that was struck between Menzies and May Couchman was that she would bring AWNL into this deal and all of the AWNL women, particularly in Victoria. She said she wanted equal representation at every level of the organization, so at every branch position, there was two vice presidents and two delegates. There was always to be a male and a female.
It was an incredibly amazing outcome, and that actually was an important background for that party in Victoria. We need to draw back on this history. Margaret Fitzherbert has written about a book on the AWNL and a lot of those deals that were done at the time. Looking at a woman like May Couchman, she was really shrewd political operator who struck deals and could push issues. We need that now. We need people who’ve got a broad background and I don’t think you can have spread and representation without a spread of women. Also I think all political parties need to do better with the breadth of ethnicity too.
Here’s some old political advice given to me when I was young. When you’re in difficult political situations, when there are opportunities, there’s some very famous words; everyone in authority and in positions of decision-making hear troubles, grief and attacks, the one set of words they don’t hear is: what can I do to help? It sounds so deadly simple, but it’s actually true. In many complex situations, you ask, “How can I assist?” Political leaders tend to forget this. It’s actually not about them, it’s about what they can do for others.
The other piece of advice is; move around and talk to lots people. There’s a lot of people who have good ideas. Don’t dismiss ideas, think about them. You don’t always have to accept them at that initial point, but you don’t have to reject them either, you need to appreciate them.
My parent always told me nothing replaces hard work. It’s definitely a truism. I actually do believe you shouldn’t follow a career path in life unless you want to do it. You have to have a dedication to it, whatever that might be. I do think you’ve got to commit yourself to things in a really robust way. It’s important to expect that in politics, where you’re successful, it will be a big intervention on your time. I’ve got an older boy who is twelve and a girl who is ten. They’re at that point where you talk about all of those sorts of things, whether it’s cricket or anything else (he’s quite a good cricketer) and I say to them; you need to do more practice, there’s no replacement for actually putting in the time. There you have it.
We met the opposition planning minister David Davis at the Cricketers Bar at The Hotel Windsor on Thursday evening. Over a wine we shared some laughs and yarns on our experiences, with the election looming near. David was the first politician we had interviewed. A new experience for us and different to be interviewing someone who is used to being questioned and is articulate and well verse in expressing an opinion. There’s something to be said for having a conversation with a politician instead of the one dimensional view one gets of our leaders from the media. It begs the question of whether we all should engage more with politics. Or as David says, get out there and meet people. David was very open with his political voice, but also had some very interesting stories of the involvement of women in the early stages of the Liberal Party. We can only hope to speak to more politicians in the future and bring you more of there stories. And we wish David all the best with his current political term!