25 August 2013
Here is what’s impressive about Peter Beattie’s bid for a seat in the House of Representatives of the 44th Australian parliament: the humility of a man once at the top of his tree being willing to till the soil all over again to build a vision for his life anew.
Laugh if you will. At me if you like. But I’m in the federal electorate of Forde, chances are you’re not.
The man is 60. He left his previous career as Queensland Premier pretty much at the top of his game. He could step sideways into just about any job he chose. He could command the attention of presidents and kings the world over (okay, moreso than most of us). He could hold out for a Senate vacancy and parachute into parliament like the former NSW premier did. Etc etc etc.
Yet he is campaigning to represent a suburban wilderness with high unemployment and high social disadvantage, and despite common perceptions to the contrary given his fast-track candidacy, just like all eight other non-incumbent candidates he is fighting from the ground up to win this seat.
To date I’ve witnessed no sense of diminishment about the man, nor any trace of entitlement in his campaign – which was launched at 10.30 this morning.
The Labor Party faithful in Forde cheered for a federal parliamentary candidate they believe will thump the table in Canberra for jobs, infrastructure, health and education.
Beattie’s campaign was launched at a low-key event in Beenleigh with his now-inevitable opening line, to ‘put Forde on the map’.
About 100 people filled the chairs in the Beenleigh Senior Citizen’s Centre for the launch, including a roll call of Queensland political dignitaries – Senator Joe Ludwig, former tourism minister Margaret Keech, former education and industrial relations minister Cameron Dick, Brisbane City councillor Milton Dick and Labor parliamentary statesman Manfred Cross.
To the uninitiated, they were indistinguishable from the rest of the campaign crew.
Beattie elucidated ‘the four key issues’ for the electorate of Forde, which 2013 candidates universally agree has fallen through the jobs/infrastructure/health/education gap between Brisbane and the Gold Coast.
He reiterated his record as premier of the state over nine years (the M1 freeway, police stations, schools and a ‘shot in the arm’ for the Yatala Enterprise Area). He preened his true blue Queenslander credentials.
Beattie has, for the most part, been forgiven by local party members for hijacking the parliamentary aspirations of the ALP’s former candidate, Des Hardman.
Two men at the back of the room took a deep breath when I asked if the turnout might have been any different if Hardman was still the candidate.
They look at each other.
“Not any more,” said one.
“It was hard at first, because Des had worked so hard. At this point in the campaign, most of us realise it’s about the party rather than individuals.”
The other chimed in: “Besides,” he said, “the people in this electorate would be crazy to ignore the opportunity to have Peter as their local rep.”
For all the grassroots-i-ness of election campaigns generally, I for one am surprised at just how low-key the election is in Forde. Despite widely held perceptions that Beattie’s campaign has the advantage of national media attention, in reality there is very little media in Forde. As far as I could tell, No Fibs was the only media present at this morning’s campaign launch – and we’re the only media with a dedicated Forde campaign presence.
As for me, dedicated Forde campaign reporter, I’m looking forward to taking Beattie up on his invitation to ride around the electorate with him this week.
Not least because I’m curious to explore – on behalf of anyone at all in the nation over 50 who faces creating their life anew – what it’s like to throw your sense of self to the winds of ambition, and start over from the ground up.