With a Federal election due this year, Brand House of Representatives member Gary Gray reflects on the past year, with the father-of-three telling Brian Oliver about how he juggles life as a politician and family man
Q: Looking back on 2012, what has it been like for you as Brand MHR?
A: It’s been a busy year locally and a busy year in the legislative context. So at both ends of my job, being a local member and being engaged locally, and the job you have to do nationally in the parliament in Canberra.
Q: Do you understand why some people in the electorate are not happy with your position on why military pensions and superannuation payments are indexed differently to other pensions?
A: The position I have is the position the parliament has taken in the course of the last 30 years. So the position I have is identical to the position of the current Australian Government, the one before it and the one before it.
Indeed, the long-serving finance minister in the Howard government, Nick Minchin, position is the same as mine. That point of continuity, I believe, people do need certainty to understand why the decision is what it is. The easiest thing in the world is to tell people what they want to hear. I’ve never been that kind of local member, I will never be that kind of local member, I’m not that kind of minister, I’m not that kind of parliamentarian. I fully accept that some people in the electorate who don’t like what I say about that, but that doesn’t mean that I’m wrong.
Q: Talking about easy slogans to win votes, is that a hard thing to steer away from now that Brand is considered a marginal seat?
A: Well you have to have in mind that in 1996 Kim Beazley held the seat of Brand by 110 votes. So, in 1996 it was on the wafer-thin of all margins. Indeed, in 1996 it was one of the most marginal seats in the entire country. In 2004 it had a margin of a little more than what it is now.
Brand has been, over the course of the past 20 years, a seat that has varied from being ultra marginal through to being a safe Labor-held seat.
It’s current margin of 3.3 per cent, or thereabouts, is not unusual margin for the seat of Brand.
Q: When you are in the electorate, what do people talk to you about?
A: A whole bunch of things. At the extreme end of things I get people being critical of decisions such as defence superannuation and benefits, I get seniors who are extremely complimentary of the very substantial increases in pension indexing mechanism. But sometimes I get people, such as defence retirees, who complain that pensioners get a very substantial index and they get a different index.
I also get a lot of conversation about health care, the provision of housing. Education, however, is probably the biggest, single area of continued commentary for me.
Sometimes positive, sometimes negative.
Q: What were your thoughts or perceptions about what life as a politician would be like before you were elected in 2007?
A: You have to have in mind for most 1980s and ’90s, I was in Canberra working for the Keating and Hawke Labor governments. It was only relatively recently I moved to Perth, worked in medical research for a while, then as an executive at an oil company and then Kim (Beazley) decided to retire and asked me if I was interested in standing for Brand. I reached a point in my life where things had sufficient certainty that I was able to do something completely different. It’s an exciting life that I enjoy and is very busy. That has its own toll. You need to have a network that can support your family. I’m away for some or all of 40 weeks of the year.
When I turn up to my schools I describe this job as being an extreme form of fly-in, fly-out work.
Q: Can you highlight one thing that’s been an achievement since you have been Brand MHR?A: Getting the GP super clinic into Rockingham, even though it was opposed locally – Phil Edman opposed it – and the health care services it will deliver, the mental health services it will deliver for young people and for adults is very significant for this area. Getting the training opportunities that come with our investment into skills, $16 billion, is critically important.