EARLY Thursday morning Simone McGurk got a taste of the reality of her new life as a state MP.
The newly-minted Fremantle Labor politician was walking her dog on Carnac Street when she let it off the leash for a trot—something she’d done a thousand times before without comment.
This time a resident bustled up to tick her off, warning her that if she wants the electorate’s respect and vote next time around, she’d better stop flouting the law.
Ms McGurk realises there’ll be a lot more scrutiny as the electorate gets to know her better, acknowledging she’s got “D-grade celebrity status” despite living in Wray Avenue for 16 years.
Her strong union connection (she ran Unions WA before getting elected) but low local profile fuelled internal ructions about Labor pre-selecting “union hacks” following the Barnett government’s juggernaut win on Saturday, but Ms McGurk says her background will help in the new job.
“One of the key issues for this term will be leveraging off the boom to make sure the benefits flow through to everyone, in areas such as local jobs content and job security, and with a union background I could talk on these issues,” she told the Herald.
She acknowledges she hasn’t an extensive portfolio of local issues to boast about, but notes she was active fighting for a better Three Harbours plan back in 2009 and is a regular contributor to the anti-live sheep transport campaign.
Fremantle was Labor’s only gain in the election; across the state the party bled six seats to the Liberals and one to the Nationals. Three seats were still too close to call when the Chook went to press, two of them Labor, but it’s expected they’ll hang on.
Ms McGurk’s primary vote of 38.2 per cent bucked Labor’s woes elsewhere, dipping just 0.5 per cent from the 2008 election (Jim McGinty’s last contest). The statewide trend was 2.7 per cent.
It was the Greens that suffered the biggest loss, with an 8.6 per cent slide against Andrew Sullivan (although the 5.5 per cent Adele Carles collected will have much of that).
Ms McGurk says the Greens weren’t able to shrug off their association with her independent predecessor, who’d split with the Greens shortly after her 2009 by-election victory, when her affair with senior Liberal Troy Buswell became public.
“The party’s representatives get to be the face of the organisation, so even though they’d split, people would still associate her with the Greens,” Ms McGurk said.
She says despite being a first-termer, she’ll be putting her hand up in the depleted 19-strong caucus for a couple of portfolios, nominating transport and arts as areas she’d be most interested in.
When asked why she and forklift-driving partner Mark had decorated their home with indigenous art, her responses included they’re “original art”, “from a local gallery” and “modern pieces”.
Asked what they’d touched in her heart, she took a few moments to think about her answer: “I think they give a small piece of Australia most of us don’t get to see.”
As for local priorities, she lists expediting the move of the WA housing department to Fremantle, lobbying Fremantle Ports to develop both ends of Victoria Quay together rather than focusing on the northern portion, and lobbying the WA transport authority to fix the mess in front of the train station as three that immediately come to mind.
“There’s also the development south in Cockburn, along the coast, and I want to make sure there’s adequate setbacks from the railway, which I understand is very weak.”
She’s broadly supportive of Fremantle council’s aims to increase density and height in the city, saying she doesn’t feel they’ve gone too far.
However, Scheme Amendment 49 didn’t get a ringing endorsement: “Parts of it have got merit,” she said.
She wants every new development proposal closely scrutinised by the public to make sure they work with surrounding heritage and community.
“But the city still needs to be vibrant,” she said.
“I think Freo had to send a signal to developers that it was open for business.
“And I travel a lot, particularly around Australia, and in Australian cities when it’s done properly [added density] can be very exciting and attract creative activity.”
A history graduate and archivist at university, Ms McGurk has a strong grounding in heritage and sits on a national board for Labor history. With qualifications in media, she worked for a short time at the ABC as a producer and in native title with the Yamatji Land and Sea Council.
by STEVE GRANT