We continue with our Women in Politics series with the Hon. Teresa Gambaro MP (Liberal), Federal Member for Brisbane, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance and for Citizenship and Settlement.
Liberal MP Teresa Gambaro learnt what it meant to have guts long before she went into politics. Her parents, who immigrated to Australia from Italy after World War II, ran a small fish store in Petrie Terrace, an inner-city suburb of Brisbane. Far from the seafood industry, Ms Gambaro is now scaling the political ladder – but the fight to retain the seat of Brisbane, one of the most marginal electorates in the country, will definitely require some guts.
Born in Brisbane in 1958, Ms Gambaro spent her child hood in New Farm, a suburb situated on the bend of the Brisbane River and walking distance from the CBD. She attended a Catholic primary school and an all girls high school before she graduated from the Queensland University of Technology with a Bachelor of Business, majoring in marketing. She worked as retail assistant at Myers, helped run the family’s seafood business and then accepted a job as a manager at the international hospitality chain Southern Pacific Hotels.
Teresa Gambaro swapped the service industry for public service, when the Liberal Party preselected her for the seat of Petrie, which she won at the 1996 federal election.
“Before becoming the Member for Petrie, I was approached by the Liberal Party and asked if I was interested in running for the seat,” Ms Gambaro said. “I agreed as I had always been interested in public service and at that time having seen my family as small business owners suffer under the atrocious policies of the Hawke-Keating Labor government with double digit interest rates, I was only too happy to be involved.”
The mother of two held the seat, with John Howard as her boss, for nearly a decade before she lost it to the Labor Party’s Yvette D’Ath in the “Rudd Slide” election of 2007. But Teresa Gambaro didn’t hang up her gloves and bow out of the political ring. She fought her way back into politics and three years later she became the first female to represent the Brisbane electorate since its creation in 1901 and the 29th person to have served different federal electorates after an absence from parliament.
“The opportunity to serve in public life is one of the highest honours that can ever be bestowed upon a person. I have been fortunate enough to have had that honour for not one, but two federal electorates – Brisbane and Petrie,” Ms Gambaro said.
“So when Tony Abbott kept ringing me after 2007 asking me to come back, the opportunity of representing the people of Brisbane in the Federal Parliament was an honour I could not refuse. He was very charming and convincing.”
Her new boss, Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott, appointed her Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Citizenship and Settlement. She made headlines in this position last year when she claimed that new immigrants to Australia need to be taught cultural “norms”, such as wearing deodorant and waiting in line.
“Without trying to be offensive, we are talking about hygiene and what is an acceptable norm in this country when you are working closely with other co-workers,” the Australian newspaper quoted her as saying. The comments were splashed over newspapers and in TV news bulletins, and sparked an outcry on social media, forcing Ms Gambaro to apologise for her comments just hours after they were published.
But it’s the issue of same sex marriage that has garnered much attention in her campaign to be re-elected as representative of the inner-city electorate of Brisbane.
Gay marriage activists have openly declared war on her and over the weekend the Australian Marriage Equality group reportedly handed out 70,000 flyers calling on her to support same-sex unions.
Teresa Gambaro has refused to confirm whether she supports same sex marriage, although she has stated that she would call for her party to hold a conscience vote if laws on the matter were to come before parliament again.
Ms Gambaro holds the seat of Brisbane for the Liberal National Party by a slight 1.1 per cent margin. The Labor Party candidate for the seat, unionist and former candidate for Dickson, Fiona McNamara, has backed gay marriage.
Despite the pressures that go with political campaigns, Ms Gambaro said she has been looking forward to the election for a long time, as it will “offer people the clearest choice in a generation”.
“Campaign days start early and finish late and I am very fortunate to have an understanding husband and supportive family,” she said. “I find that walking with my husband, my feisty dog, ‘cranky’ Frankie at the end of each day helps me keep my equilibrium”.
It was her family that taught Teresa Gambaro the value of hard work and made her want to enter, and stay in politics.
“In particular my grandfather and mother instilled very strong values of striving to achieve, appreciating what you have and helping those less fortunate than yourself. ”
“I have no doubt that that sense of gratitude came from their own great sense of appreciation as Italian migrants to be living in Australia and the opportunities this country gave them to build on the success of their hard work.”
For more information visit Teresa Gambaro’s website: teresagambaro.com