LIBERAL MP Gary Blackwood was returned as the member for Narracan at last month’s state election while his party lost government. The Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen sat down with him to discuss what he has planned for the term ahead.
Above: Gary Blackwood votes with Labor candidate Kate Marten in Warraul on election day. Photo: William PJ Kulich.
First published in the 12 December 2014 edition of the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen. Get a copy today from retailers across Baw Baw.
WBBC: You had a number of key funding announcements during the campaign for a re-elected coalition government; what are your hopes of getting some of the ones that weren’t also proposed by Labor through as an opposition member?
Blackwood: That’s a challenge for me. My first four years in this job were in opposition and I worked very hard to develop working relationships with Labor ministers at that time, and I was successful with a number of those relationships. That’s what I propose to do going into opposition this term. I have a good working relationship with a number of them already and I will endeavour to use those relationships to put my case for health, education and public transport in this area. And CFA.
With the hospital, the really urgent thing for me is the expansion of the midwifery and the third operating theatre, which was a $2.5 million commitment from us. The first chance I get I will be sitting down with [health minister] Jill Hennessey and asking her if she can keep that on the radar. During the campaign we had pretty much bipartisan support for the needs of the hospital here so I see no reason why Labor won’t still support those issues.
I will also continue to push for the duplication of the Longwarry-Bunyip section of the rail line, and also for extra carriages for V/Line services.
W: I don’t think you need to lobby on that one, Labor has already committed.
B: They have, but I need to make sure we are fairly well up the list.
W: Isn’t it difficult to promise rail infrastructure for this line given how much needs to happen in the city before improvements here? Duplication is good, but it does depend on metropolitan projects.
B: That’s true. I’m still hopeful that the Dandenong-Cranbourne rail corridor upgrade will proceed. A big part of Labor’s plans are to remove level crossings anyway, and the high capacity signalling system is a no-brainer, that has to proceed. That will open up opportunities for Gippsland trains going in.
W: You mentioned you had a good working relationship with a number of new ministers and you mentioned Jill Hennessy just before. The person in her position in opposition was Gavan Jennings. There have been a lot of changes between the shadow ministry and the new ministry – where there any surprising appointments?
B: Not really. I come from the point of the view it’s not about politics, it’s about getting the outcomes for my community. There will be different positions on policy and direction and certainly I will voice my opinion, but where we can come together and have a bipartisan approach on things that’s the best outcome.
W: What about bus services?
B: Once again, just have to keep pushing. I have been pushing for the last four years for the expansion of the Warragul town service and for a town service to be provided in Drouin. That’s similar to the need for an ambulance station in Drouin – it’s all based on population growth. Drouin is the largest country town that doesn’t have a town bus service and it’s well over the trigger point in terms of being given an ambulance station, so both those issues we will keep pushing for.
W: You mentioned Labor’s front bench and of course there has been a reshuffle for the Liberal party too and a new leader put in, Matthew Guy. He is a personal friend of yours, represents a new generation of the party and has taken different approaches to what some might have expected in the past; where do you see the party heading under him?
B: What we will get with Matthew Guy is someone who’s 40 years of age, a young family man, but someone with lots of energy and enormous capacity to articulate on whatever the issue is. He’s a very good speaker, very quick on his feet, not frightened to back his own judgement. He has enormous support from within our parliamentary group, as did [other leadership contender] Michael O’Brien, and I’m not sure what the final votes were but I’m sure it would’ve been close. All my colleagues have enormous respect for both, and that bodes well for a united party going forward.
W: On that united party: another friend of yours who you used to hang out with on the back benches, former premier Ted Baillieu, resigned as leader during the last term. What was the division that caused that? There’s a lot of commentary suggesting he was pushed and there would have been camps supporting different leaders.
B: No no no, that’s not the way it played out. Ted made the decision at the time around the two-year mark to step down.
W: That doesn’t usually happen.
B: No, and that was very much orchestrated between him and [subsequent premier] Denis Napthine. Ted… felt he couldn’t cut through in the media and it was time for a change. There was no division or blood letting, and that’s why the transition was so smooth.
W: But that wasn’t the only transition to occur – the polls and problems did from one leader to the next too. Do you think the election would have been the same under Ted as under Denis in the end?
B: It’s hard to say. Ted and I have always been good friends. He supported me a lot… so he’s a very good friend and always will be. But so is Denis. I support whoever the party room elects as leader. W: You have been in parliament for eight years now, next election it will have been 12. Do you see yourself as being on the front bench at some point?
B: That’s a decision for others. If I was approached I would say yes, if I’m not approached it doesn’t bother me. There are a lot of younger members of the coalition team now than me. I also see my role as being a slightly older person in the group… I have a lot to offer in supporting the younger people in the party.
W: You had a swing against you despite a redistribution that increased your margin from 12 to 16 per cent. What do you put that down to?
B: Any first-term government that has had to make tough decisions… there’s bound to be a backlash from that. I think the federal scene did have an impact on voting patterns. I think the Labor government was very clever with muddying the waters with federal issues as well as state issues to try to trash the Liberal party brand.
W: Wasn’t that happening the other way around during the 2010 state election with the Gillard government in place though?
B: Oh yes, it would have been. That’s the way you play politics, that’s what I’m saying – they were very good at it. But I had 12 per cent before, I’ve got nearly 12 now – you’ve got to bear in mind this was a -6.8 per cent seat in 2006 so we’ve come a long way. The challenge now is to hold on to that.
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