AT A candidates’ forum in Wonthaggi on Wednesday, Russell Broadbent used about 20 seconds of his allotted five-minute spiel. “You all know me by now” was the nub of it. “Take me or leave me. I really don’t care.”
Aged 71, Mr Broadbent surprised many when he announced he wanted another go at Monash, a seat he’s held for 23 of the past 32 years and continuously since 2004. He has stood for the Liberal Party at every federal election since 1984, when he was aged just 33.
It’s been a long political career but not a stellar one. No portfolios in 30 years, not even a junior ministerial post. The closest he’s come to achieving high office was co-chairing the Parliamentary Group on Asbestos Related Disease.
He also voted no to marriage equality, despite 65 per cent of his electorate saying yes. And last year he went public on his decision not to get vaccinated against Covid, in an electorate in which 95 per cent were double vaccinated. In February, he told Parliament he’d contracted Covid the previous month but sailed through thanks to a strong immune system and a course of Ivermectin, despite the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s advice against using it as a Covid treatment.
He tells the Post he has no idea whether his vaccination stand will win or lose him votes.
“That was a personal decision. I was very happy with that decision. I’ve had every vaccination in the past but not this one. There’s a .07 chance of dying from Covid.”
Do his constituents raise his vaccination choices with him?
“The papers do but I don’t get it when I’m out and about. The people who attack me use it against me. People can say what they like. It’s a free country. Off you go!
“The ones that take it hardest are my family and friends and staff who want you to respond. I haven’t done anything wrong. I haven’t told anyone not to get vaccinated. I just made my own decision.”
Asked why he decided to carry on in politics, and what he wants to achieve, he says he still has a contribution to make. He dismisses the theory of one Post reader that he plans to win the seat for the Liberal Party and then retire.
“My commitment is always to the people of my electorate, not the Liberal Party. Not once have I ever not fulfilled that commitment.”
He says the rewards of his political life come from his constituency work. “Relationships are everything. My staff and I keep good relationships with departments, ministers and oppositions. That’s where wisdom and experience come in.
“When my staff have a huge victory on behalf of an individual – that’s what we’re here for. In times when they’re in real trouble. You can actually change people’s lives.”
Mr Broadbent’s website looks as if it hasn’t been dusted for a decade – he is still listed as the Member for McMillan – but he is a prolific poster on Facebook, especially presenting cheques to clubs and groups across his electorate.
“My electorate is fantastic at grant applications,” he says. “It doesn’t take much to make people very happy, just a little bit to get them over the line.”
Despite the widespread happiness from this largesse. the Guardian’s ‘Pork-o-meter’ (measure of election promises) suggests Monash voters may be being short-changed. It currently shows Monash election promises at $5.8 million, or $52 per voter, compared with many thousands per voter in some more marginal electorates.
Top three issues
1. Liberal Party
2. Liberal Democrats
3. United Australia Party
4. Australia Federation Party
7. One Nation
(He wants you to know this was the party's choice and not his. He would have put the Greens at 7 and One Nation last. "But I'm part of a party. I'll cop the criticism.")
You can check out Russell Broadbent’s full voting record at They Vote for You.
Mr Broadbent responds: “I don’t play, I deliver. I don’t say ‘If we are re-elected I will do this.’ Unless the money is delivered into the local council or the local community I don’t count it.”
Apparently I’m looking in the wrong direction. I shouldn’t be looking forward to what he might promise in the next term but looking back at what he’s delivered in the current term.*
He reels them off: $5 million for aged care in Neerim South (announced last week); $4.5 million for a cancer treatment centre in Baw Baw (announced this week); $5 million for the Cowes Cultural Centre (announced in 2021). ‘We’ve delivered on child care in Korumburra and streetscape works in Leongatha’s railway precinct redevelopment, funds to the Cape Woolamai and Inverloch surf lifesaving clubs …”
So it’s him, not the Liberal Party, that’s not making us election promises?
“I’m a process person. I’m probably not as political as you’d like. My constituents accept the fact that I’m absolutely real on what I deliver. We’ve got to be honest with the community. I always have been. It might be to my own detriment.”
After each successful election, he says, he visits the councils in his electorate to ask them what they need, and what is their highest priority. “I work in partnership with my community. The funds that go into local government are massive.”
Bass Coast Shire Council is asking for $12.3 million for climate change mitigation measures, including $11 million for urgent works to address coastal erosion. Our council argues that it’s beyond the capacity of a small regional council to tackle the works required.
Mr Broadbent says he’s aware of the urgency, particularly at Inverloch, but any solution has to be a partnership. “They can’t just ask the Federal Government to fund it. They have to leverage other levels of government.”
Like the Donald Bradman of politics, he can recall the details of all his election battles. He’s been rejected by voters four times. “In `84 and `87 I was expected to win and didn’t. And in `93 and `98 I expected to win and lost.
“Monash elections are always tight. At the last election, every other candidate preferenced against me. I expect they’ll do it again this election.”
He says he’s doing his best to retain his seat. “I have an expectation that the work I’ve put in will pay its full dividend on election day. If it doesn’t, I’m done.”
And if he was defeated this time, in the twilight of his career, how much would it hurt?
“Only for the next five years. There’s a lot of grass to mow.”
* According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the Monash electorate received $15 million in federal government grants from 2018-21, while Indi (Victoria, Independent) received $35 million and Lyons (Labor, marginal) received $58 million.