What is the reason why you are personally involved in politics?
I have seen enough about the internal mechanics of government to have formed an operator’s eye view of how government should work and what policies priorities should be and how you deliver them I decided to put my hand up at the end of 2015 largely because I thought the party that I loved had lost its way in government and I knew this because of my own experience has a senior advisor. Inside meeting with other colleagues we were concerned that the public wasn’t getting what we were trying to do. It was very easy to form hard and fixed views on reality when you are in small rooms with like-minded people. What you need to do is ensure you haven’t lost touch with reality. Unfortunately, it was a good government and it will be proven in time but in the 2nd term of the Barnett government, I saw a lack of connection to the broader community and I could smell it, hear it and taste it. I remember at the T20 there was a group of tradies behind us for two seasons from my electorate. And I remember everyone was talking about holidays and buying new cars but over the next couple seasons the conversation changed. They began talking about not being able to secure shifts, that their wife was looking for part-time work, they were preparing to downsize to a cheaper car to run. It was palpable. It was one of the most profound political lessons I have learned. If you want to understand reality go and live and listen to real people. Every government has a tendency to lose touch. I put my hand up to refocus the government and make the best of what the Barnett government had done.
Why the liberal party?
The Liberal party was the party I saw my values best reflected in. For me, it was a long process of personal political discovery, my family background is non-political but if my parents had a preference they would be soft Labor voters. When I moved to Canberra after I finished university I wasn’t a particularly active student. I was always interested in global politics but it wasn’t my main focus. Canberra was and still is very much focused on politics. As a consequence of that environment, I saw myself becoming more involved. I worked for the Department of Defence at that time and I was probably more motivated to join the Liberal party as a consequence of John Howard’s national security policy settings. I could not help but thrive personally from and admire the way the economy was managed and the more thought I gave it the more comfortable I felt in being a Liberal party supporter. Generally, the public servants who were my colleagues were Labor supporters but always encouraged robust intellectual debate. I found the challenge to respond to their arguments strengthening and self-improving to a degree as it made me examine my own motivation and ethics. I think we need to be a bit more sophisticated when we talk about peoples political positions. My political perspective evolved over time. I went through that proto-libertarian phase, but as I have grown older I have become more of a traditional conservative in my outlook and in my focus and largely by virtue of being politically engaged but also because of things like getting a mortgage, getting married and having a son. It does change your focus. It wasn’t until my son was born that I understood personally and tangibly the benefits of the public health system. You can look at these things through an ideological framework or lens but sometimes a lived experience seasons your outlook a little bit more. I feel well at home within the Liberal party and I think it is the platform that is inherently optimistic about Australia’s future and a future for individuals in Australia who take advantage of their own initiative and enterprise and are prepared to reap the benefits and accept the responsibility.
Do you think young people should be involved in politics?
There are different schools of thoughts on this. If you are politically engaged and you feel it is like its part of your DNA then you should get involved. I would open that invitation to a young person who feels politically motivated irrespective of their party affiliation or personal philosophy. In Australia, you are only destined to be governed by the kind of people who are willing to put their hands up. There is no obstacle to political engagement the only obstacle is the reluctance to get involved. To have a healthy debate you need as many different people to be involved in that debate at all stages of their lives. High school students, uni students, vet students and other young people in the workplace have a voice and deserve to be heard. Menzies’ dictum, The wisdom in entering parliament at an older age is you enter with your political philosophy largely set. You are adopting an ideological framework set that guides you in your decision making. You also understand you are there to represent constituents and to get the best deal for them through your framework. Politics should be considered a service enterprise. When you forget people are the heart of that enterprise it doesn’t matter how sound your political thought may be if you can’t actually bring effect to that and be pragmatic. You can maintain a constant set of principles but the position you may adopt can change.
Do you think it’s fair for young adults to ignore the sacrifices required to enter the housing market or do you think they are setting themselves up for failure?
As a society, we put a premium on home ownership. I think the focus on this is shifting towards a more European intergenerational model. I think it would make us a little more sensitive to other people’s concerns and viewpoints and we would have a healthier community. We might get to a point in 20 or 30 years when people say my aspiration doesn’t include buying a house. Some people prefer to be mobile and travel and you can’t do that while servicing a mortgage. There is no one way to live your life, no longer do you need to graduate and get a wife and get a mortgage – I say work it out for yourselves. Being in your 20s is great. It’s a decade of exploration and informed risk-taking, there is no need to get old before your time. If you want to get into the housing market then there are certain things you need to do, and you need to be prepared to make these sacrifices.
To what extent should electors stick with their reps or party?
People will always protect their own best interests. To expect to be rational is to expect them to vote in their own interest. The issues which resonate for people will have consistency but there will also be emerging issues which capture attention and have disproportionate effects on where they put their vote. Politics has never been held in lower esteem than now. Just look at the erosion of party membership and primary votes. If the major parties can’t come to grip with the reasons it is happening then they will be out of business. That is an inescapable mathematical reality. In the first and second Howard term, we could expect 40% of the primary to go to each major party. What we are seeing now is that 20% in the middle growing significantly. We are seeing major fragmentations in primary votes. And I think that’s largely because they are looking for a party they can rely on and that they have faith can deliver for them. If this happened in any other enterprise then serious questions would be asked by shareholders. Political debate does not connect to people and their needs. We should stop talking about the individual and get back to major issues. Traffic congestion, infrastructure, healthcare and having an optimistic vision for the future. People aren’t seeing this and are looking for other options.
Should we be pushing people to become politically engaged?
There is a responsibility on politicians to communicate more effectively to those who aren’t proactive. It should be easier and simpler by the fact we have compulsory voting. We probably aren’t taking advantage of it. We also need to focus on what really matters to people and not ourselves. Esoteric political issues should be less focused on. When we focus on people we will increase our audience and grow our membership and therefore garner votes. It’s not on the responsibility of those disengaged but the political class to start interacting with people in a way that captures them.
Why is the swing margin increasing?
Rather than blaming the electorate we as politicians should focus on the issue. I do not believe it’s down to the volatility of the electorate. The political debate has been hijacked by vested interests across the political spectrum which do not resonate with people. We can see this in the way larger lobby groups manufacture debates. They are entitled to do that but there is a tendency for a parliamentary debate to become a conflict between lobby groups. But that doesn’t matter as it’s about how the legislation will affect the people. The Liberal Party we need to cut back to the core and focus back on the base. The sensible middle class. People who are aspiring toward success for themselves and their families. We need to go back to the fundamentals and build credibility. It’s going to take time and it definitely won’t fix itself overnight but its the only way to long-term success. They need to walk the talk. People are losing trust and we need to ensure what we say is what we do.
How do you refocus people into the bigger picture?
To some degree, you need to concede they have justifiable grounds to be cyclical. We also need to concede that they are probably 90% of the Australian Population. A lot of politics and debate is inherently tedious and so it’s a difficult task. We need to remember politicians doing the right thing isn’t going to sell newspapers or get clicks – but it is reasonable. There is a responsibility that the media has, they need to focus on the substance rather than the trivial things. Because the more you trivialise the issues the more you trivialise the democracy. If we are going to be a representative centre-right party then we have to be a party that is open to all generations and have equal gender representation and a plurality of ethnic groups. It should reflect the wider community. I think those values tend to be slightly conservative. Not in a strong sense but it’s there.