Michael Burge

Michael Burge

Journalist at No Fibs
Michael is an author and Guardian Australia journalist who lives on Ngarabal country in the NSW Northern Tablelands. He was was born at Inverell into a farming family with New England roots deeper than most. His debut novel Tank Water is out now from MidnightSun Publishing.
Michael Burge
Michael's articles about writers, performers, artists, creative rebels and the writing process are available at his website.

By Michael Burge

August 2, 2013

Not long after I moved into the southeast Queensland electorate of Bowman in late 2012, I spotted a man sitting in a plastic chair on Redland Bay Road, next to a rather fetching retro caravan emblazoned with bright red lettering.

The local media confirmed the fellow’s identity as the member for the state seat of Cleveland until 2006, the ALP’s Darryl Briskey.

I overtook him once at Victoria Point; I nearly stopped to meet him at Raby Bay but didn’t indicate in time; I swept past him on the roadside at Chandler; and I eventually caught up with him on busy Shore Street West, Cleveland, to find out why he’s decided on another tilt at representing the people of the Redlands.

“Initially, I was the reluctant candidate,” Darryl says, laughing. “I’ve been out of public life for seven years, I have a small cafe in the city which is going well, my four children have all finished school, so a year of travel with my wife got put off, because people down here said, ‘Will you run?’ and at first I said, ‘No’, I did 17 years in public life.”

Darryl Briskey, ALP candidate for Bowman

Darryl Briskey, ALP candidate for Bowman

So, what was the tipping point that got Briskey back?

“It was Campbell Newman sacking public servants for no justifiable reason,” he says, his smile draining quickly. “The sackings affected all the small businesses around me, and we had all gone through hell during the GFC. Then, of course, the flood affected us”.

“It’s been a tough few years for small businesses. Many of my customers are public servants. At the time of the sackings, even if they hadn’t lost their jobs, many were afraid to come out and buy their lunch. Mr Abbott said that he supported Mr Newman’s actions, and all these actions affect not just businesses, they affect people’s lives, and families.

“So, you look in the mirror and you think, ‘Someone has got to do something about this,’ and then you realise that person is you, so when I was next contacted to stand, I said, ‘Yes, I’ll do it.’”

During my research on the division of Bowman, I noted it was named for David Bowman (1860-1916), small businessman, state member for Fortitude Valley, and long-term opposition leader for the Queensland ALP. Although Briskey is now running for a federal seat, his return to politics in many ways mirrors Bowman’s lifelong political career.

“I’ve been an ALP member since 1978. My father was the state secretary of the Australian Postal and Telecommunications Union. He and I used to hand out ‘how-to-votes’ at every election.”

I take my time getting to the obvious question, about the massive swing to the coalition at the 2010 federal election. Briskey doesn’t flinch.

“I am very much the underdog,” he says. “People are very unhappy with Campbell Newman and the LNP, and that will be reflected in the federal vote across Queensland. Also, from what I’ve heard from Redlanders, people want a change. Whilst a 10.4 per cent swing is a big swing, Queenslanders’ dissatisfaction with Campbell Newman and Redlanders’ dissatisfaction with their current member are positives for me.”

So I ask what Briskey thinks Redlanders are looking for in a federal member.

“The first thing I would do here is badger the Minister for Communications and the NBN Co CEO about the need for the NBN in Redlands as soon as possible. I believe in the squeaky wheel principle, I never give up, that’s why I achieved so much when I was the state member.

“If you do your job as local member, you fight for things, and get them sooner than other places, and that’s what I want to do. When I was first elected, we had a tiny hospital. Now, we’ve got a first rate Redlands Hospital. There was a demountable down in Cleveland called the police station, I had a new police station built.”

CLEVELAND ROAD SIGNConsidering that Darryl has chosen to hit the road and meet anyone prepared to stop and talk with him, I ask him what being accessible means for his election chances.

“An MP’s office should be open to everybody. I don’t know why, but at the moment some people can’t talk to our local member. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t talk to anybody. Members of parliament don’t have all the answers. If you’re a good member of parliament, you’ll listen to people, and plan for the future of your area.

“We always had a meet-the-candidates night, with questions from the floor, at each state election. On the evening you will have your supporters, and other candidates will have theirs, but do these nights change votes? I don’t think so, but they’re part of the democratic process.”

During our time on the roadside, passing motorists beep their horns and regularly wave at the former state MP.

“A really big issue for me is getting cars off the road. Most of the people who live down here work outside of the area, so we’ve got a real issue with peak-hour traffic.

“One of my biggest issues is train travel. It’s not getting enough cars off the roads, it’s a 50-minute trip to the city, and we haven’t got enough train crossings across the Brisbane River. There’s a plan for an extra crossing at Albert Street which the federal government has offered funding to assist the state to build. This needs to be built.”

Before wrapping up the interview, I have to know whether all the ALP expects of Briskey is the possibility of ‘saving the furniture’ for a party that was facing electoral wipeout under former prime minister Julia Gillard. His answer, again, refers to the road.

“The greatest barometer down here – the cab drivers – have said they’ve never seen a bigger turnaround. They say people love to talk about Kevin Rudd. A month ago, they wouldn’t even talk about politics. I believe that I have already reduced the margin, and, with the help of Kevin Rudd, I believe that the ‘underdog’ has a good chance of winning.”

Next up: Penny reads the campaign signs – Greens candidate for Bowman Penny Allman-Payne

 Last week: Interview with Palmer United Party candidate for Bowman, John Wayne.

 Coming up: Fernando Alba of the 21st Century Australia Party answers my questions.

 Laming update: Sitting member for Bowman, Andrew Laming MP, has emailed me a couple of statements and indicated he may respond to my questions once the election date has been announced.