Robin Tennant-Wood sits down with Mike Kelly before the start of the 45th federal Parliament for a chat about how he’s approaching the job, some hot local and federal issues, and how he won.
The sign on the window facing Monaro St in Queanbeyan still identifies the office as Peter Hendy’s, but inside, Dr Mike Kelly MP, is back at work and has unfinished business.
After losing Eden-Monaro in the 2013 election, Kelly took on a number of defence and security-related projects. The sorts of projects that he had intended to pursue post-retirement from his military career, had Kevin Rudd not convinced him to enter politics in 2007.
He was in Argentina working on a UN project when he received a call from the Opposition Leader’s office asking him to come and work for Bill Shorten as security advisor. It was during this time that Kelly began to hear negative feedback about the representation in his former electorate.
“Eden-Monaro has always been well-represented by its member, and to find out that this was no longer the case offended me,” he says. It was then that he resolved to contest the 2016 election to finish what he started.
For Kelly, it’s personal. “My family has a history in this region going back over 160 years. I feel they’re looking over my shoulder.”
For the first time since 1971, Eden-Monaro is an opposition electorate. Kelly is adamant that our representation will remain strong. He is great believer in the capacity of local MPs to use their own initiative and “just get out there and do stuff”. He has already met with state member for Goulburn, Pru Goward, and the Mayor of Yass, Rowena Abbey, regarding the Barton Highway upgrade.
Immediate matters: transport, tourism, regional economy
Also, he says, “there’s still funding for this electorate that has never been spent”. He secured $10million during his previous term of office for the Port of Eden that has not been spent and for which he intends to hold the government accountable.
He is also keen to pursue his comprehensive transport plan for Queanbeyan and the implementation of a regional economic plan.
With Canberra Airport now an international airport, Kelly sees great opportunities for regional business and tourism and will be promoting that as a priority.
Some hot issues get direct answers
Council amalgamations? While a state issue, this was, he says, “red-hot” in Tumbarumba and Bombala, and “warm” in Palerang.
He is incensed that Queanbeyan-Palerang will not have a democratically elected council until September 2017 saying there are a lot of major issues that are too important to be handed to an appointed administrator. Kelly intends to make representation to the New South Wales Minister for Local Government, Paul Toole, to press this point.
The Ellerton Drive Extension? This is “a white elephant” he says. It’s another point he will be raising with Paul Toole. The comprehensive transport plan he was advocating during the Gillard-Rudd governments is still relevant and would provide a more cost-effective and long-term solution to Queanbeyan’s traffic and transport.
Climate change and renewables? Kelly describes the ALP’s Climate Change Action Plan as his “favourite piece of public policy ever”. A 41-page document, developed largely by Greg Combet, it provides a plan for economic reform and jobs creation as well as bringing in renewable energy and environmental benefits. With his support for renewable energy well-known, this policy will be promoted strongly for Eden-Monaro.
Gay marriage? “The $160 million for the plebiscite could well blow out to $250 million. To put that in perspective, the Bega Hospital we funded was $170 million. We could walk into [Parliament House] and sort it out with a parliamentary vote next week.”
How he beat Hendy
I suggested that Dr Hendy’s appointment as economics advisor to the Prime Minister may have been offered prior to the election, explaining his low-profile election campaign. Kelly thinks that it was Hendy’s strategy all along to make himself a small target, pushing the focus to national, rather than local issues. If that was the strategy, it backfired spectacularly.
Kelly’s strategy, on the other hand, was to go to the grassroots. He attended all but one of the candidate forums during the campaign, and for the one he missed he arranged for (Labor MP) Sam Dastyari to attend on his behalf. His visibility around the electorate [and his grassroots volunteer support], gave voters a clear indication that Kelly meant business.
There’s a lot on his plate for the coming term of office, but Mike Kelly, with six years of parliamentary experience and a long career of military service is taking it all in his long stride.