Leah Roberts sat down with Lisa O’Malley, the State Labor Member for Bicton, to talk about what motivates her, issues facing young people, and the state.
Leah Roberts: What led to your entry into politics?
Lisa O’Malley: I tend to view myself as being an accidental politician. I came from a background of community activism, it’s part of my DNA. My mum was part of the P&C, she was a big fundraiser for my four brothers scouting and football clubs.
Once my eldest went to school, I followed in my mum’s footsteps and became involved in the P&C first, in a fundraising role, then as the President. I campaigned for Palmyra Primary, which is over 100 years old, to have air conditioning. I did this with an 8-week-old baby in a sling. We lobbied at parliament and had independent Janet Wellard (who was the Local Member at that time) pass a grievance motion to the then Education Minister, Mark McGowan. It’s rather funny that I’ve come full circle, I now sit in a WA Labor Government led by Mark McGowan.
Next were the Barnett Government’s cuts to education. I, along with other local P&C members, formed parent action group (SOS) ‘Save our Schools’. Through this, I came into contact with Simone McGurk, the member for Fremantle. Simone has had a huge influence over me and my journey from community activism into organised politics. In late 2013, I found myself with SOS working alongside education aligned unions as part of the ‘Putting Our Kids First’ campaign. I took my community activism to the steps of parliament, where I spoke to a crowd of thousands. At the end of 2014 the Perth Freight Link was announced. My friends, and members of the community received letters saying their houses would be resumed. I got in contact with Simone and got involved in the ‘Rethink the Link’ campaign. I later ran for local government in 2015 for the city of Melville, who supported that project. This experience reinforced my belief that even small changes can have a great impact on people’s lives.
At the end of 2015 the WAEC announced the new electorate of Bicton during their boundary redistribution. My initial reaction was disappointment that Simone would no longer be my local member, I hadn’t really put much thought to it beyond that. State politics had never been on my radar. After a great deal of thought, I decided why not?
What led you to choose Labor?
My decision was value driven. The conversations I had with local Labor MP’s, their strong work ethic and commitment to their local communities was another factor. I discovered that WA Labor’s enduring values matched my own and that was a great political fit. Labor embraces so many different aspects of society now, whether you’re a CEO, small business owner, or an EA in a school. Fundamentally the party connects to the community.
What influences you?
My influencers are health and prevention. I lost a brother to suicide in 2014, almost three years ago, I have my own experience of ill mental health, my family is pre-disposed to it. I see young people taking their lives, it’s just too much – that is clearly a heavy motivator. I feel this sense of responsibility, to use the position and the opportunity I have, making a difference in that space.
What reforms would you like to see?
Good local government is critical, it’s our grass roots. We will be conducting a review into local government, how they invest and influence our local communities I’d like to see greater level of accountability and transparency. I definitely want to see reform there. The community has largely been removed from the process, and their involvement diminished, I want to see reform on that.
The Human Rights Commission recently released a report on sexual assault and harassment at Australian Universities. Do you think the State Government can act to improve the situation?
Ultimately, it’s a whole society issue. Simone McGurk is the state’s first Minister for Prevention of Family and Domestic Violence, it has been identified as a priority area by the government. It’s changing the societal norms, university is a microcosm of society. They reflect the culture of the wider community. We made a huge step forward to that. There is a briefing coming up on the issue. There will be policies that will be developed and there is a large commitment by the government to these issues.
Speaking of culture, do you find Parliament to be a ‘boys club’?
I grew up around blokes, I worked with them, I’m not intimidated by the male environment. I will probably have quite a different perspective to other women in parliament. I grew up with 4 brothers, I worked in the male dominated fitness industry. When I walk into parliament I am not intimidated by the male environment I know I bring a point of difference to the Parliament, I know I can mix it with the lawyers and career politicians. If I see others feeling intimidated I will do what I can to help, I’m not afraid to stand up. I know there will be amazing female parliamentarians who may struggle to achieve what they otherwise could because of the combative environment. I feel it’s important that women support women. There needs to be a greater level of respect in the chamber.
If the situation occurred when you would have to choose between supporting a policy that would benefit the whole state but be potentially damaging to your electorate – would you support the policy?
In Government, we need to have policies that benefit the whole state, where there is potential for negative impact in the electorate that can be challenging. There will be opportunities elsewhere and it’s important to maximise those whenever possible.
What advice would you give university students finishing university and trying to enter the job market? Will the government give any sort of hope to university students?
Our government has a strong commitment around local jobs. We are committed to helping start-ups and small business. We don’t want to see our youngest and brightest go to Melbourne or Sydney or New York, we want them to have jobs here. It will take time to evolve, developing industries beyond what we currently have. I would say to any young person, find your inner entrepreneur, try to think outside traditional employment. No successful business ever really happens by just one person. I guarantee you, look at your university cohort, there are the creatives, the number crunchers, those who can market. It can be applied to any career. We are supporting innovation in the workspace.
What do you think personally are the biggest issues facing the state currently?
Jobs and the economy. There are challenges in the energy market, we need to be proactive and elongate our vision. It comes down to jobs and improving the economy.
What are your future aspiration in politics?
I want to do what I can with my skill set to best support the team, the party, our state. I am happy to take on opportunities as they came. Also working hard on winning my seat again, and supporting my community, that’s my number one priority!
Interview by Leah Roberts