Next up in our Women in Politics series is Federal Member for Higgins in the House of Representatives, the Hon. Kelly O’Dwyer MP (Liberal).
The key message conveyed in Kelly O’Dwyer’s maiden speech in parliament was that of aspiration.
In February 2010, the Federal Member for Higgins *Vic) cited the story of her grandparents who established a small business and, through their aspirations, created opportunities for their family that carried down through the generations and informed her politics.
Case in point. The struggles her parent’s small business endured during the recession of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s informed her belief in small government and less regulation. “I joined the Liberal Party because we are the Party which helps people to fulfill their aspirations,” she told parliament. “Those opposite are just as likely to stamp them out.”
In a local coffee shop located in her electorate, Kelly O’Dwyer jokes with the barista about supermodels. She is very approachable, her face known amongst locals not just because of the election posters and billboards around town, but because she makes herself personally known to as many of her constituents as she can.
“I think it’s really important to live in your electorate,” O’Dwyer reasons, having opted for a juice instead of caffeine. “And the reason I think it’s important is because the decisions that you make in parliament can affect peoples lives and you should be directly accountable. So when I go shopping, when I get takeaway or when I go down the street, or go to the local school, I get feedback all the time.”
Her success in the electorate is emblematic of her career leading up to life in the public eye. She excelled as a corporate lawyer with Freehills, one of Australia’s ‘Big Six’ firms, before becoming a policy adviser to then Treasurer Peter Costello (the man who she would succeed in the safe seat of Higgins) in 2004, and a senior adviser in 2005.
Working in the office of the Federal Treasurer, she was one of 19 staff. “That includes electorate staff, that includes the receptionist, that includes people typing up transcripts. You had four senior advisers who worked for [Costello] in different policy areas and you were the key advisor in that area, there was no duplication of responsibility with anybody else,” she elaborates.
A two-year stint as an executive with the Australian National Bank, developing a new business unit, further bolstered her credentials. By 2009 O’Dwyer had amassed such experience and apparent authority on economics to position herself as a viable candidate for office. “I think it’s really important to have a breadth of experience and I think that the work that I have done has stood me in very good stead to understand a range of business experiences.”
In 2009, Peter Costello – whom she considers “a tremendous mentor, somebody who has been incredibly generous with his time [and] advice” – resigned. A by-election was called and O’Dwyer came forward as one of two contenders for the electorate, a decision she insists she came to herself, with the reference of her former employer. “I think if you want to run and put your hand up for public life it has to come from you,” she says. “As much as sometimes people talk about being tapped on the shoulder and all the rest of it, you have to want to do it.”
While her economic positions run with the groove of the Liberal Party, O’Dwyer is a firm believer in conviction and authenticity, even if it means occasionally dissenting from the party line. “There are certain issues where there is great debate within the coalition party room and I think that that is the sign of a very vibrant party room. You would be a bit horrified if everybody had the same view on absolutely everything,” she affirms. “You want people to be able to test ideas, to argue ideas, to have the best possible policy that you bring forward.
“On matters of conscience, I’ve obviously given a speech in the parliament about the issue of same-sex marriage, and I have a different view to some of my colleagues on that and I gave the reasons in some detail as to why my views are different.”
A snapshot of her portfolio indicates that her position has allowed her to pursue areas which have entertained her passions throughout her life, including positions such as: The Coalition Policy Secretary of the Economics Committee and, more recently, a member of the Coalition’s Deregulation Taskforce.
O’Dwyer is in the early stages of her political career, yet has an idea of what type of public servant she would like to be remembered as. Someone who, in her words, “achieved some good policy reforms that were very much in keeping with the core values of the Liberal party, allowing people freedom and choice and the ability to make decisions about their own lives and business.”
For more information about the Federal Member for Higgins visit Kelly O’Dwyer’s website: www.kellyodwyer.com.au