Labor stalwart still has work to do in Richmond
* The latest in our series of candid conversations with our political candidates.
WITH 12 years and four successful elections under her belt, many might think Labor MP Justine Elliot would have had enough of the political game.
But think again.
The former policewoman, who served as minister for ageing in her second term, is more fired-up than ever about continuing her work in the political arena.
“Equity is what drives me,” Mrs Elliot said.
“In my maiden speech I talked about the fire in the belly and fighting for change. I still have that every single day, because, particularly in the last three years, we have seen some really harsh cuts that have impacted people here.
“We need to be standing up to make sure we can stop these harsh cuts, whether it’s health or education. It’s impacting our community pretty severely.”
Growing up in Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast, MrsElliot left her job as a general duties police officer after seven years to have children – she now has two teenagers – and study further. She credits policing with fuelling her commitment to politics.
“While everybody is responsible for their own actions, what I could see from policing is there are a lot of inequities in the world,” she said.
“And that drives my personal philosophy, particularly about people having access to decent health care and education... and affordable housing. I think as a community and ultimately as government, we have a responsibility to make sure that people do get an even playing field.
“That is what has always driven me. It’s about getting fairness and getting equity for this region, whether it is accessing Medicare, education or acting on climate change.”
While attracting some criticism, particularly over her attack-style advertising, the 48-year-old remains doggedly determined.
Mrs Elliot was first elected in 2004, when she wrested the seat off Nationals minister Larry Anthony by a handful of votes and on the back of strong Greens preferences.
Since then, Mrs Elliot has managed to hold on to the seat, initially extending her margin considerably before losing much of her gains in 2013, when she suffered a 5.6% swing against her, attracting 33.5% of primary votes compared to the Nationals’ Matthew Fraser, who secured 37.6% of the primary vote.
A strong preference flow from the Greens saw the MP returned on a reduced margin, with Mrs Elliot offering no apologies to critics who accused her of only making the grade on the back of preferences.
“It has always been a marginal seat. I have never taken anything for granted,” she said.
“If you look at the seat of Richmond, since 1984 it has been decided on preferences. Larry Anthony won this seat in 2001 particularly on One Nation preferences. The end result is the majority of people still preferred me.”
If the betting odds are anything to go by for this year’s poll, Mrs Elliot is a shoo-in. As of Friday, Sportsbet had Mrs Elliot as a firm favourite, with odds of $1.15, while her nearest rivals, Nationals’ Matthew Fraser and the Greens’ Dawn Walker, languished behind at $5 and $11 respectively, with the three remaining candidates at odds of more than $100 to $1.
This is despite a boundary redistribution that saw Richmond lose Nimbin and gain Ballina, which many believed would play into the hands of the conservatives.
The situation contrasts with the neighbouring seat of Page, where Labor’s Janelle Saffin, a former MP, is neck-and-neck with incumbent National Kevin Hogan, with both candidates on odds of $1.87.
With the support of her staff and family – including husband Craig, who volunteers much of his time in the electoral office – MrsElliot has run a tight campaign.
To date, and with the support of Labor Leader Bill Shorten, who visited at the start of the campaign, she has announced funding commitments to sports groups in Kingscliff, mobile phone users in Pottsville and Uki, and businesses in Brunswick Heads. She also committed to help fight drug use, particularly ice, in the Northern Rivers, as well as other things.
For her, the most common issues raised this campaign include health, education, jobs and the NBN.
With just two weeks to go, Mrs Elliot appeared confident but when asked how she spent her time off, she just laughed.
“I don’t really have a lot of time to relax,” she said.
- Get to know another one of our candidates next week.