Fresh from his election win, Rob Oakeshott is relishing his new role as Federal member. He talks to us about the support that has enabled him to make a difference.
>Hi Rob. You’re settling into your new role as Federal member – how have you found the transition?
Hi to you, and no, it hasn’t settled into a pattern yet – but I am hoping we can get there soon. On day one in parliament I saw a change of Liberal leadership, and then all the positions on the Opposition change, plus there is the obligatory ‘getting to know you’ time with as many Government and non-Government MPs as possible. Likewise, in the first week we saw the national response to the global financial crisis, we’ve had the Garnaut report on Climate Change released, a Productivity report on paid maternity leave, several multi-billion pieces of legislation on education funding being debated, and all this while the most basic tasks have been happening. Such as putting together my maiden speech, trying to organise office space in the electorate, trying to interview and employ staff, and trying to organise the most basic of stationery such as pens and paper.
And on top of all this, it is very clear there are some pent up constituent issues within the electorate, as we have received a great deal of communication from a lot of people within the area, and many are seeking help on some long-standing issues that remain unresolved.
So, no, it is definitely not settled yet, but I am confident we will get there in a month or two, and from that point, we will really start to hook in on the issues.
> It’s been titled a ‘landslide victory’, polling 64.1 per cent of the vote. How does it feel to have such strong support from voters?
Obviously it is great, and obviously is so much better than the alternative. But people vote at the ballot box for a whole lot of different reasons, and I realise that. If I don’t work hard, and work smart, and respect people within the electorate and within Canberra, then I should not expect a similar vote in the future. So I am mature enough to be thankful for the vote received, but also recognise that for this support to continue into the future, I will need to continue working hard, and achieving outcomes.
> What were the essential ingredients of your campaign?
In as positive a way as possible, it was to focus very much on the issues of the day. And there are plenty that need to be addressed that we have started working on – whether they be hospitals, GP numbers, road funding, education improvements in the area, water quality improvements … to name just a few. The campaign was and is no different to the on-going work of being a local MP, so really, there were no great tricks involved – just trying hard to get things done, and leaving it up to people at the ballot box to either support or reject the work you do.
> There was quite a harsh media campaign against you – people may remember it as ‘Too Close to Labour. Not Good for Lyne’. Was that hard to cope with both personally and professionally?
To be honest, I found it a pretty funny political strategy, and I really don’t know what genius cooked it up. The new Rudd Government is, like it or not, elected for at least the next three years – and more than likely the next five or six. They are the Government.
So to try and run an argument against me that I was close to the decision-makers for the next six years was probably not the smartest play.
Anyway, each candidate chooses their own message as is entirely their right in our democracy, and I was really pleased that most people saw through that for what it was.
> What are your plans, now that you hold the seat? What immediate and long term changes will be put into place?
We are really honing in on the health matters within our area. I am really pleased that the Health Minister has been the first Minister to visit the area since the election. She has spent $6 million improving health training opportunities, created more nursing places, and also accepted our arguments regarding GP shortages, and we now have three new positions allocated within the first month. This is a really important start to improving community based health care. We’ve also had one first-up meeting with the Minister for Education and are starting on the process of improving the education standards within the region – something that is critical for us to wrestle out of areas of disadvantage. For example, our income levels within this region are some of the lowest by comparison throughout Australia, and it is well and truly time we addressed this.
> Do you have any intentions of aiming for a ‘higher’ seat in Parliament? For example, do you aspire to become PM?
No. Realistically, this is it, and I am happy with this role of being a community-based Independent who works with the Government of the day on issues, and where necessary, pulls them up if they are doing the wrong thing. It is a busy, engaged, and fulfilling way to spend a working life.
> Is there anyone who you would like to thank in particular?
Definitely family – Sara-Jane, Sophie and Olivia for their understanding. And to the small army of 700 who helped on the campaign team. In my mind they were the point of difference and have made this such a great experience.
For so many people from so many different walks of life to come together in the way they did for the one cause was both fascinating and marvellous to be a part of. To those people in particular, but also to those who invested their vote my way, I say the biggest of thank yous.
And in response, I will be doing what I can to repay your faith with the outcomes from Government we all want for both our region and for our country.
> Thank you Rob.