You can credit the socialist democratic paradise of Sweden for making Meg Edwards a Liberal Democrat. After a year in Sweden as an exchange student the young Meg decided that, much as she liked the Swedish people, she didn’t want to live in a country where the government had so much control over people’s lives.
It took her a while to put a label on her own libertarian political instincts, taking a circuitous route via the Liberal Party.
“Oh I still believe in the Liberal Party values on their website,” she says. “I just don’t see them living their values.”
“Don’t get me wrong. We need government. We need a structure, we need hospitals, schools, roads, we need to look after vulnerable people. But we don’t need government to make every decision for us. We don’t need a government telling us how to live our lives.” And yes, that includes vaccine mandates.
We meet in the new family house in Inverloch’s Broadbeach estate. The furniture hasn’t been moved in yet so we converse from beanbags against a stunning backdrop of trees and creek where kangaroos gather at dusk. The family has a small grazing farm at Fish Creek but their two young sons have so many commitments in Inverloch it’s easier to divide their time between the two places.
Ms Edwards and her partner co-manage a sustainable building and regenerative farming businesses. They designed and built Seastar, an 8.1-star energy efficient home in the Cape which garnered plenty of media attention. She says they didn’t make any money out of Seastar but the marketing and PR was priceless.
She’s not a trained designer – others do the technical stuff – but she makes sure the design works. “I look at it from the point of view of someone living in it. How would I work in the space? How would I live here?”
But they’re pulling back on the building for a while. “There’s a huge opportunity and huge demand in construction but the operating environment in Victoria at the moment is risky and unstable. If you’re in bricks and mortar you’re very exposed.”
She says the Federal Government’s Home Builder Grant, introduced during the first year of the pandemic, had a devastating impact on the building industry. Costs went through the roof. Builders were locked into contracts that sent them broke. It also made houses less affordable.
To her it’s a prime example of a government interfering needlessly and causing chaos in people’s lives. It’s also an example of why politicians on every level need to talk to their constituents.
“Government need to create a stable business environment and then get out of the way. Why would we want to hold back someone who puts time and money on the line? Small business creates jobs.”
Meg Edwards says these will be decided at Liberal Democrats HQ and she is not sure of the precise order.
Three top issues
“Six months ago I would have said it was all about infrastructure in Monash not keeping up with a rapidly growing population. Now it is cost of living.”
It wasn’t a political family. To this day she has no idea how her mother voted. But she was always interested in politics, not necessarily as a representative but in the policy area.
“How does a policy dreamed up in Spring Street or Canberra actually affect people? We see so often that it’s out of touch. There are some very well intentioned policies that create chaos.”
After a stint in Queensland, with a young son and another on the way, she and her partner returned to Fish Creek in 2013. This was her patch, she had decided, and she wanted to have a say in its future. She was soon involved with community groups and committees and in 2016 was elected to the South Gippsland Shire Council.
When she saw the makeup of the council her heart sank. “I’ve been involved in different committees for years. I knew the personalities.”
The council was deeply dysfunctional, riven by factions and ancient feuds. “I welcome diverse and different opinions. Politics should be a contest of ideas. There are ways to debate that are productive and there are ways that just shut it down. There is never a place for personal attacks in politics. We need to do politics a different way if we want to get people to stand. We need to have respectful dialogue.”
She resigned within two years, the second of three councillors to do so. Soon afterwards, the council was sacked by the State Government and administrators appointed.
Bruised as she was by her experience – at times she seemed a lightning rod for attacks – she says it did teach her to put up barriers when necessary. And it didn’t put her off politics altogether.
She actually resigned from the council to stand as a Liberal Party candidate for the Upper House seat of Eastern Victoria. She didn’t win the seat and she later resigned from the Party and joined the Liberal Democrats.
Her new party got just 2.27 per cent of the vote in Monash (then McMillan) in 2016 and didn’t stand a candidate in 2019. Clearly Ms Edwards isn’t going to win the seat. But she enjoys the contest of ideas, talking to people, hearing their views, giving her own.
“When I was a councillor I made sure I talked to the people who were impacted by items on the agenda. I might not always have agreed with them but I always took their views into account and was prepared to explain why I voted the way I did.”
At the candidates’ forum in Wonthaggi on Wednesday, a question from the floor was about the future of nuclear power in Australia. The other candidates quickly rejected the idea. She was the only one to say nuclear power should be considered (as per Liberal Democrats policy on affordable energy).
“I’m not saying I want nuclear power," Ms Edwards said. "I’m saying it should be included in the mix for consideration.” In a largely leftie audience, the response drew respectful applause for its honesty.