Peter Besseling is our new State member for Port Macquarie. After a close election, Focus caught up with Peter to see how things are progressing in the hot seat.
Congratulations Peter. Have things settled down after the last month?
No, not really! It has been a whirlwind first month in office, with a number of parliamentary sittings, many important local issues on the boil, as well as the logistics of getting an office organised and staffing it, so that we can hit the ground running.
It was within 5 days of the polls being declared that I was being sworn in, just before question time, and made my maiden speech that very same evening in front of about 25 family and close friends. I had my first question to the Premier about funding for the expansion of the Port Macquarie Base Hospital Accident and Emergency Department the following day and delivered a tribute speech about local National Parks and Wildlife Service Firefighter, Bryce Laut, who tragically died while fighting a fire the previous Sunday.
Since that time we have had Ministers and Premiers visit to make funding announcements, a huge public rally against the development of the Westport Park Foreshore area, many meetings in Sydney with Ministers concerning local issues, and just to top it off, a controversial mini-budget that created a more-than-steady stream of correspondence into the office.
During that time I have also employed three new staff, set up offices here and in Sydney and have tried to re-introduce myself to my wife and children after nearly 12 weeks of working on both the Federal and State Election campaigns. So yes … things have been busy.
> You are a former professional footballer (Peter played for the Waratahs as a second-rower in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s) and now a politician! What prompted this huge transition? Has working as a local representative always been your aim?
I first got interested in politics through helping with Rob Oakeshott’s inaugural election in 1996. I had just had a season with the Brumbies and arrived back home just in time for Rob’s campaign. We spent 10 weeks driving around in a ute with a megaphone on the roof, trying to raise his profile – very similar to the Blues Brothers.
It worked well. Rob was elected, and I headed off again on a rugby career in Sydney. Following my stint with the Waratahs, I had three terrific years in Japan with my family, playing professional rugby.
I arrived back in 2005, where Rob was very keen to work together again for the area, and I took up a position as an advisor to him for the past three years. I have always been community focused, which was one of the reasons why we chose to live in Port Macquarie in the first place, and working for the local Member seemed a natural fit. Having said that, working as a local Member fits much better!
> Your campaign was received well in the community (Peter received approx. 37 percent of the primary vote and 56 percent of the two candidate preferred vote). Why do you think there was strong voter support for you?
Our community has supported the concept of Independent representation at state level over the past 12 years, and we have certainly benefited from that support. I have no doubt that the electorate felt comfortable continuing with an Independent as State Member, and that they felt comfortable enough to elect me, makes me both extremely proud and grateful.
As all candidates in both recent Federal and State Elections will tell you, running an election campaign is also very complex, involving political strategies, marketing and promotion, personal representations, public appearances and a great deal of planning. It also requires an enormous amount of energy, patience, and support.
Having been involved in four campaigns to date, the experience certainly was a factor in being able to manage the stresses and the emotional rollercoaster that a campaign can bring, as well helping with the logistical challenges.
> The Hastings region now has two Independents representing us. Why do you think the community has opted for this change?
Again, the community has shown that they are comfortable with voting Independent and voted for someone at Federal level who has a proven track record of local representation, of delivering good local outcomes, and of putting the community before the interests of a political party. The only real change in party representation has occurred at a Federal level.
> A couple of big, current questions for you. What’s happening with the development of our foreshore and hospital funding?
While we continue to push forward for the implementation of the Port Macquarie Base Hospital master plan and the construction of the ‘fourth pod’, it was great to get a commitment from the Premier to fund the expansion of the hospital’s Emergency Department. It was also great to have that funding protected from the spending cuts announced in the recent mini-budget.
The foreshore proposal as put forward by both the Ariadne and MacroPlan concept designs has caused a great deal of concern within the community and numerous submissions to the Minister for Lands, myself, and the Council Administrator. The community has reacted in the best way possible – by making themselves heard and by being active and engaged.
I have called on the Minister and his Department, as owners of the land, to withdraw any consent to the proposals over the site adjacent to the Marina. Talks with the Minister will continue throughout the next three weeks of Parliament, as we work towards a better outcome for the foreshore area – in the best interests of the community.
A petition will also be presented to Parliament with the concerns of many residents and visitors and is a credit to the many hours of hard work that groups such as the Foreshore Protection Association are putting in.
> What are your future goals? Do you have any ambition to rise through the ranks of government?
My immediate goal is to be the best State representative for our area that I can possibly be, but not at the expense of my family. Where that may lead me from there is something that only time will tell, but I am certainly looking forward to the journey.
> Aside from politics, what do you enjoy doing in your leisure time?
I am a member of both the Port Macquarie Surf Club (Vice President) and Rugby Club (President) and I love nothing better than getting in the water for a bit of body surfing with the kids, or kicking a football around. I also enjoy surf boat rowing with a great bunch of friends and testing our mettle against the awesome power of the sea.
There hasn’t been much time to complete the landscaping at home lately, but I do love spending some time at home working on the house or trying to play the not-so-handyman.
> Is there anyone you would like to thank for contributing to your success’?
The same answer is trotted out on most occasions that this question is asked, and this time will be no exception – because it is true, it is appreciated and it stands as the foundation that many people have built their achievements upon in life.
Without the support of my family, I would not have even tried half the things in life that I have enjoyed success at, and it is their love and support that I am most grateful for.
The same can be said of the many, many friends, supporters and volunteers who worked on the campaign with me, for no reward other than the collective enjoyment of a victory shared and perhaps the odd cup of coffee. I thank them all.
And of course Rob Oakeshott, who has led the way as an example of true community representation. In the words of Sir Isaac Newton (and the irony is certainly not lost upon me): “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
> Thank you Peter.