SHE’S A MUM. AND, LIKE MANY, A MUM WITH AN ‘OUTSIDE THE HOME’ JOB TOO. SUSIE LUNCHES WITH ANDREW STONER’S SUCCESSOR, OUR NEW MP IN THE STATE ELECTORATE OF OXLEY.
I’m lifting a fresh-poured chardonnay to my lips when a fly, driven by gusty winds, sweeps in the restaurant window and drops into my glass. Damn! I move to discard the wine … but my lunch guest intervenes, deftly fishing out the insect with a spoon. Does she think I’m going to drink it now? No: she swaps her untouched glass with mine and calmly swallows my original wine, sans fly, without batting an eye. It’s a Mummy sort of thing to do, I muse, like “Here, let me kiss it better”.
Melinda Pavey is indeed a mum, with husband Warren, of Jack, 16, and Emily, 12. She’s the new Member for Oxley, elected to succeed the retiring long-term National Party leader. MPs need a strong pastoral inclination to service the wildly varying needs of some 70,000 constituents, so The Fly Incident augurs well. It’s evidence of chutzpah, I reckon: a no-nonsense, roll-up-your-sleeves, let’s-get-on-with-it attitude. (It’s nowhere near as outre as drinking the dioxin 245T, an Agent Orange component, as I recall another Nat once did, in an attempt to destroy its reputation as a carcinogen).
Other attributes MPs need include physical endurance to cover the vast swathes of territory making up rural electorates: Oxley’s a meandering grab-basket running from just below Coffs Harbour around Urunga and Bellingen, up in the hills to Dorrigo, down the Nambucca coast, back inland to Kempsey, down to Wauchope and further south to Comboyne and Elands. At just turned 46, Pavey’s close to the average age of her constituency (yet with a remarkable 26 years of political experience behind her: she first began work in Macquarie Street, in the Parliament, in 1988). Contemporaries come to mind: Premier Mike Baird, federal Liberal minister Scott Morrison, Qld Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk – and J Lo, Cate Blanchett, Matthew McConaughey. That is, it’s an age when they’re at the top of their game, with a track record of achievement, proven ability to deliver the goods, yet still with stamina and a zest for fresh horizons. Normally, though, we’d say let’s wait and see. But Pavey has much more experience than many MPs. For 12 years, from age 33, the Hon Melinda Pavey was a Member of the Legislative Council, for two years Shadow Minister for Emergency Services and recently Parliamentary Secretary for Regional & Rural Health. She was just 20 when she joined the parliamentary staff of Coffs MP Matt Singleton, a minister in the Greiner Coalition Cabinet, and later worked with other Nats including Deputy Premier Wal Murray. Moreover she’s fit, a keen triathlete; she and son Jack trekked Kokoda.
“My [paternal] grandfather and Jack’s grandfather, Warren’s father, both served in New Guinea in World War II,” Pavey says proudly. “So we did it [together]! It was a 10-day challenge. I lost 5 kg.” The family are keen surfers too, Warren recognised two years back as North Coast Lifesaver of the Year. The couple work in tandem and seem an ideal can-do team. Recently they bought a new home at Urunga, moved house, got chickens for the chook pen, and saw both kids off to a new school year – amid all the 24/7 demands of campaigning to win Oxley.
“I grew up on a dairy farm in country Victoria. Mum and Dad were sharefarmers, worked hard; Mum worked nightshift as a nurse at the hospital,” Pavey recalls. A holiday at Grassy Head Caravan Park induced her family to make a seachange to Coffs, she just entering her teenage years. Post-HSC and a cadetship as a local radio reporter, she moved to Sydney broadcast journalism and was soon picked up for her local MP’s staff. In ensuing years, between various jobs as an adviser with the Parliamentary Nats, she travelled solo overseas and later, in 1995, with Warren, to the 80th Anzac anniversary at Gallipoli. After their marriage Pavey surrendered work in Macquarie Street (but remained immersed in ongoing Nats’ campaigns); the pair opened a 60-seat restaurant, Foreshore Cafe, on the Coffs jetty strip. Six years later they’d not long sold it as a successful concern when party heavyweights picked her for an Upper House vacancy. Jack was 3 and Pavey “nine months pregnant” with Emily.
Now her new Lower House role allows her to zero in on her mid-north coast homeland; her background sees her hit the ground running. Running indeed: when we meet she’s come from a day in Parliament, carting kids to a birthday party, attending Wauchope’s railway centenary celebrations and headed to Kempsey Show, with Macksville to follow, then to her Kempsey office. An MP covering an electorate of 10,000sq.km must be capable of coping comfortably with an unrelenting schedule. There’s collegiate support from other Nats including fed David Gillespie and State Minister Leslie Williams. In her 2011 inaugural speech Williams recognised Pavey as “the catalyst for my entry into politics”. Pavey’s own inaugural speech in the Legislative Assembly is coming up this first sitting week of May.
It’ll detail a torrent of ideas, keenly articulated over lunch, for farming, primary produce, manufacturing, timber, tourism, engagement in our “stunning” outdoors, local food culture. She’s enthusiastic about big and small business, niche shops and markets in the small communities, the environment … the new/not-so-new MP comes across as inspiring, an energetic motivator whose dynamism will surely be welcomed. “We have to reward innovation and hard work, to create jobs and opportunities for the next generation,” she insists.
Now it’s home for Mother’s Day weekend. Emily’s chicken “business” will soon produce its first eggs. Em will earn some pocket money from Mum and the local church might expect regular donations of fresh eggs for its food drives.
This article was from issue 116 of Greater Port Macquarie Focus.