ONE of the essential qualities of a good local member of parliament is that you represent the people who live in your seat.
I represent the inner-city Melbourne seat of Prahran which is probably as diverse as anywhere in the country. I have some of the richest people in the country residing in the mansions of Toorak and South Yarra but I also have some of the poorest residing in the housing commission towers of Prahran. I have a very young and transient population moving in and out of the many apartments in my area. I have a big post-war migrant population, particularly Greeks. Many young professionals are attracted to the great amenity and lifestyle opportunities in my area. And I also have the biggest population of LGBTI people in Victoria.
In my three years as local member I have achieved wins in local education, cycling initiatives, public transport improvements, protective service officers at local train stations, CCTV cameras to improve safety, health funding and small business initiatives.
I have also been a staunch representative of the LGBTI community, attending the various events and functions, picking up ideas and then achieving changes in government policy. For example, it was at my Midsumma stall in 2011 that someone handed me a copy of Noel Tovey’s book, Little Black Bastard. This led to working closely with LGBTI leaders (including Corey Irlam) to achieve a historic first for Australia – expunging historic gay sex convictions. These moves by the Victorian Government are having a ripple effect across the country with other states to follow suit.
In 2012 I began lobbying the Health Minister on rapid testing for HIV. Last year I was proud to open Pronto in Fitzroy with Minister Davis.
Specific funding for LGBTI mental health has been delivered by this government. And I am very proud that Minus18 has been funded to do its important work in helping young people come out and accept their sexuality – hugely important work where the suicide stats show that same sex attracted kids are five times more likely to commit suicide.
When I was first elected I used my inaugural speech in the Victorian Parliament to encourage my federal colleagues to support marriage equality. I was the first conservative politician to mention this issue in a maiden speech.
Prior to Midsumma in 2013, I fronted up to the Premier’s office and pointed out to him that in the 26-year history of the event a Premier had never turned up to Midsumma, an event that is as big as Moomba. He instantly agreed and joined me on stage at Midsumma to announce that his government would expunge the gay sex convictions of people such as Noel Tovey.
As we wandered through the event chatting to people it was very clear that Premier Napthine demonstrated that day that he was a leader for all Victorians. A straight, Liberal, middle-aged country vet showed by his actions that you don’t need to be gay to empathise, support and act in the interests of the LGBTI community. By his gutsy move in doing the right thing on expunging gay sex convictions (where Premiers Brumby and Bracks had shirked the call) Premier Napthine showed that he was unconcerned about any vocal minority who may not support this move.
A good politician is one who can step into the shoes of local constituents, whoever they may be, see things from their perspective, and then achieve real results. If I was represented by a gay member of parliament I would also expect that person to be concerned and to act on the myriad of other issues that are important. I am sure some members of the LGBTI community would find it an insult for people to assume that they would only vote for a person who was not heterosexual. Sexuality is just one factor for most people. LGBTI people are similarly concerned about health and public transport and education and all the things that governments are responsible for.
At the end of the day politicians must show they can be effective within government to do good things for every person within their constituencies. The particular attributes politicians possess such as their backgrounds, education, former employment, interests and sexuality should not preclude them from doing their job for the whole community.
And one parting thought — being an LGBTI politician is no guarantee that LGBTI issues will be progressed any better. Just look at Senator Penny Wong and her paralysis in achieving marriage equality when she and her government had the numbers to do it.
Clem Newton-Brown is the Prahran Liberal MP in Victorian Parliament