Rob Baillieu (23), son of former Victorian Liberal Premier Ted Baillieu, was at a lunch in Canberra in 2016, when he had to make a decision that he knew would change the course of his life. He could continue to be in the closet or step out – Out and Proud. Four years later, Rob is making his political debut as an openly gay candidate for the Victorian council elections for Borondoora City Council (Riversdale Ward).
“I was invited to a lunch with some conservative characters who spent the whole-time mocking queer people and dismissing the science of climate change. I walked out of that lunch determined to make a difference. I came out to my family and immediately set about campaigning in Canberra for marriage equality. We won that vote but the campaign to get action on climate change remains an uphill battle. It’s this experience that guides my current candidacy,” Rob, who is contesting the elections as an independent candidate, told Star Observer.
While that decision to walk out of the lunch was years in the making, Rob says when he decided to make his political debut as a council candidate, there was no question that he would be anything but out.
“I’m an out and proud man. I didn’t think twice about campaigning as openly queer. But I wasn’t always so confident in being myself. I was originally outed against my will and it was far from a happy experience. I lost some dear friends and even now I still miss them,” said Rob.
It was in 2017, campaigning for marriage equality whilst pursuing his Bachelor of Politics, Philosophy, and Economics at the Australian National University, that he met other out people. “Watching queer icons like Adam Rippon have so much fun being themselves convinced me that the only life worth living is a life of honesty and self-respect,” Rob recalled.
“He’s supportive, experienced, and wise. He encouraged me to be authentic and honest because people will see through anything else,” said Rob, who is an Army Officer in the Royal Australian Engineers and earlier this year worked on Operation Bushfire Assist and Operation COVID-19 Assist.
An avid cyclist, with a passion for music and dance, Rob sees himself as an activist for climate action and LGBTQI issues. At the council, he has identified the issues that he will champion – small businesses, climate action and built heritage.
“The council has an important role to play in shaping our economic recovery from the pandemic. I want to ensure that we integrate a strong climate action plan into our economic recovery. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to implement a sustainable reset for our local economy. I also want to ensure that in our rush to restore our economy we don’t engage in unrestrained development and lose the heritage that makes Boroondara so special.
“Making Boroondara an inclusive place is an important part of promoting equality and respect. At this point it’s the little things that will matter. Flying a rainbow flag from a building may not seem like much but for a closeted person it’s like seeing a light in the storm. Promoting the separation of church and state within council is also important. Currently we pray before council meetings despite the fact that so many of our residents are non-religious or are of diverse faith backgrounds.”
“I’m worried about integrity in politics and see the increasing anti-intellectual character of politicians as a threat to our democracy. The standard we walk by is the standard we accept and I fear we’re increasingly accepting a lower standard in our leaders. I’d like to play some role in raising that standard. I’d encourage more people to engage politically because if we don’t make the difference then who will?”
With the pandemic and the lockdowns affecting small businesses, Rob is also looking at firming an action plan to help community-run establishments.
“We need to look at the support we offer to LGBTQI community groups in Boroondara. I think there is plenty of scope for council to enhance education on queer issues locally. Beyond Boroondara, queer bars and clubs have been hit very hard by the lockdown. They may not survive once state and federal aid ends. I’ll look to work with other councils to provide support however I can.”
Outside of politics, climate change continues to be his priority.
“I’m looking towards creating a renewable energy charity with some friends and getting back involved with Extinction Rebellion post pandemic.”