Cabinet hears the voice of the bush
September 28, 2018
Kalgoorlie-born politician and newly minted Federal Environment Minister Melissa Price says the profile of regional WA will be bigger in Canberra now there is a voice from “the bush” at the Cabinet table.
Ms Price represents the Division of Durack, the second-biggest electorate in the world by land mass after a district in Canada.
Durack covers 64 per cent of the State from Wyndham to the Wheatbelt.
Durack has only been around since 2010 but was a part of the former Division of Kalgoorlie, covering 90 per cent of WA, which was one of the 75 original Federal divisions in 1900.
The former lawyer’s promotion to a ministerial portfolio, following the recent leadership spill, is the first time there has been a minister from Durack, or the former division of Kalgoorlie, since 1949 and the first time a regional WA female member has got a seat in the Cabinet.
A “fourth generation Goldfielder” and the youngest of four children to Ray and Lyn Dellar, politics was a regular fixture of Ms Price’s childhood, with her grandfather David Dellar and uncle Stan Dellar serving as Labor members for the WA Legislative Council.
At age 15, Ms Price left school, but later resumed her education and became a lawyer when she was 31.
Ms Price has worked in several industries including hospitality, insurance, fast food, grains and mining.
This includes roles at Crosslands Resources, owned by the Mitsubishi Corporation, and the CBH Group for six years.
Ms Price was the only Liberal Party pre-selection candidate for the seat of Kalgoorlie in the 2013 State election.
In a tight contest, Ms Price won the most first preference votes with 3748 compared to 3717 for the Nationals, but after a few days of counting she lost after preferences distribution to Ms Duncan.
The close election result and counting was firmly in the back seat of Ms Price’s priorities, however, when her daughter Rhiannon suddenly became ill on polling day.
That night she gave her mum words of support and told her if she didn’t win Kalgoorlie, she would win another one. Tragically, Rhiannon died two days later.
Four months on and Ms Price, still carrying the loss, found herself nominated as the Liberal candidate for a Federal election to replace the incumbent Barry Haase.
It was a whirlwind six weeks of campaigning from that point, with the Liberals facing a serious challenge from the Nationals WA who were riding off the positive sentiments of voters thanks to the popular Royalties For Regions program established by the State party.
Labor threw their preferences behind the Liberals who won by a margin of about 8 per cent.
At her maiden speech in Parliament, Ms Price said she was an ordinary person who now had an extraordinary job.
“I have the job of representing the people of Durack,” she said.
“To achieve this in a region that encompasses 46 shire councils and stretches from the Midwest and the Wheatbelt through to the Gascoyne, Pilbara and Kimberley will be no easy feat.”
Sticking with the advice given to her by Mr Haase, she has continued to base herself in Perth for travel reasons. As a backbencher and learning the ropes of Federal politics, Ms Price served on several committees in her first term, all the while making trips to the far reaches of her electorate.
After her re-election in 2016, the Member for Durack became chairwoman of the indigenous affairs committee, which conducted an inquiry, Educational Opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Students, which had its final report delivered last December.
The same month the report came out she stepped down as chair and she became the Assistant Minister for the Environment to Josh Frydenberg.
The new job had her juggling electoral commitments with official responsibilities, but it was not dissimilar to the travel she did as the chairwoman of the committee with regular trips for hearings to places such as Alice Springs and Darwin.
In her first six months as a junior minister she visited towns in her electorate including Port Hedland, Geraldton, Karratha, Broome, Paraburdoo, Newman and Kununurra, as well as going to Canberra, Townsville, Kangaroo Island, Cairns, Sydney, Brisbane and Coolangatta.
“So far I’ve been able to keep all my commitments in the electorate,” Ms Price told The Echo in an interview for this story.
“I don’t stand still for long.”
Things took a turn for the second-term member when Malcolm Turnbull’s prime ministership came under attack.
Throughout the leadership spill saga, Ms Price backed Mr Turnbull as she had backed former prime minister Tony Abbott when he was challenged.
“The principle is you stand by the leader. If you have differences you work them out,” she said.
“I didn’t always agree with what Tony did or what Malcolm did. It’s the Prime Minister of Australia. It shouldn’t be able to change so JUeasily.
“Still to this day I don’t know what happened, whether it’s about ego or personality. It was a disappointing and emotional few days.
“We have to move forward for sake of the nation. I think we’ve ended up making a good job out of a bad situation.
“I believe Scott Morrison will be a good PM, and Josh Frydenberg will do an excellent job and be a good treasurer, but it’s the change we didn’t need to have.”
The day after the spill, Ms Price was in Mullewa at its annual show.
“People were shaking their heads but a lot of people were happy with the final outcome,” she said.
With the change in leader came the need for a Cabinet shuffle.
Mr Frydenberg moved up to the role of deputy Liberal leader and Treasurer and left his role in the Energy and Environment portfolios leaving some openings.
Ms Price had an inkling she may be in for a promotion, potentially in Environment, which made for a nervous wait the day after the Mullewa show.
“It was unbelievable when you get that phone call from the Prime Minister, I really can’t explain it,” she said.
“It’s exciting, a little terrifying, of course it is. I’m the only regional woman from WA to ever be in Cabinet. All those things are running through your head as you’re talking to the Prime Minister.
“A few places I’ve been, people are calling me the minister for the bush which is really lovely.”
Ms Price said her new role just meant she had to always be on the move. “I can’t spend too much time in one place which is disappointing, but my priority is the electorate,” she said.
“My intention is not to spend less time in Durack.”
Ms Price said the day after being sworn in to Cabinet she was back in WA at the Dowerin Field Days.
“Now I’m Minister for Environment, I’m hoping I can be the commander of my own destiny, so I can choose a bit more about where I go and what I try to do,” she said.
“It’s not just now I’m thinking about ranger programs, indigenous protection areas and threatened species, I’ve been deeply engaged with all this as the local member, now my horizons have expanded on those issues around the country.”
Ms Price still has all the responsibilities from her junior portfolio with her old position now abolished.
“Emissions, climate change policy and Antarctica is part of my portfolio which I didn’t have before,” she said.
“I will take on the role completely in respect to environment approvals ... that’s a huge responsibility.
“It’s including environmental approvals in my own electorate. It will be challenging for me and the department but I don’t run away from these issues, you just have to base them on science and stick by your decision.
“I’d like to think the fact over 25 years working in the commercial world and the fact I have had experience on the other side of environmental approvals was very helpful. People can see I’m a real straight shooter and don’t cause a lot of fuss.”
Having been on the business side of environmental approvals Ms Price said applications cost agricultural and mining companies lots of money so her goal was to be efficient and consistent with timely decisions regardless of the outcome.
“Things I’m interested in WA in my portfolio and would like us to focus more on, is world heritage locations,” Ms Price said.
“We have fabulous world heritage sites ... from a policy perspective I’d like to focus on what their needs are.”
Ms Price said in terms of priorities in Durack she had written to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Michael McCormack about funding for the Karratha-Tom Price Road, the road between Wiluna and Meekathara and infrastructure for the Ord River project.
Ms Price said a recent CSIRO report into water infrastructure had been a good piece of work, but there were no intentions to dam the Fitzroy River.
Ms Price’s electorate has already seen some money come its way since she became a minister with the Federal Government stumping up $8.7 million towards upgrading Moora Residential College.
“Firstly I have to acknowledge a good campaign run by the locals, which has been going since before Christmas. I think it’s engaged the whole of WA including people in the city and that’s what kept the issue in the headlines,” she said.
“As the Federal Government I’ve maintained it’s not our asset ... and we’d only be able to do it with blessing from the State Government and they would have to commit to ongoing maintenance of the college.
“But clearly there has been a change of heart (by the State) and I’m very happy there’s been a change of heart.”
With several parties taking credit for securing the funding, Ms Price said she thought politicians should stop trying to claim the glory.
“So many people have played a part and I don’t think this is the project people (politicians) should be standing up taking credit for,” she said.
The spotlight is well and truly on Ms Price for the next six or seven months before the next Federal election.
Environment and Energy are contentious topics and the recently scrapped National Energy Guarantee was one of the elements which led to Mr Turnbull’s recent downfall.
Ms Price said there were plenty of good things to come in the Environment portfolio.
“I will leave my own mark on that portfolio, people trust me and I’ll do that job,” she said.
- Source Geraldton Guardian; Kimberley Echo; Broome Advertiser; North West Telegraph; Pilbara News