All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Independent Member For Lyne by Rob Oakeshott

on August 15, 2017

The Independent Member For Lyne
Rob Oakeshott
Allen & Unwin
2014, 392p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Passionate, vivid and immediate, and full of insights, this is Rob Oakeshott’s honest and real story of life in Australian politics. From his apprenticeship in the NSW parliament to the last days of the Gillard government, he tells it as it was.

When the results of the 2010 federal election became known, no party had a majority in the House of Representatives; it was the first hung parliament for forty years. So, both the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, set about wooing the Independents – Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott, Bob Katter and Andrew Wilkie – and Adam Bandt of the Greens. In the end, Julia Gillard stitched together an agreement to form government. When it was announced, famously there was talk of a ‘kinder, gentler polity’. That lasted for about one day.

Rob Oakeshott, in this very candid and compelling memoir, relates the events leading up to this agreement and what happened thereafter when he and Windsor, in particular, proved themselves to be stauncher supporters of Julia Gillard than many of her party colleagues. He remembers moments of celebration and incidents of perfidy. But above all, we get to meet close up and personal the man who played such an important role in the forty-third parliament.

In 1996 when I was 14, I went to a Careers Expo at the local RSL club. It was all about showcasing options for young people and at the time, my town didn’t have a university. You had to go almost three hours south or four hours west or a few hours north to do that. I got my nails done, got lots of pamphlets and got to meet the newly elected state member for my electorate……Rob Oakeshott. At the time he was about 25 and quite popular with the gaggle of teenage girls at the Expo, who followed him around like ducklings after their mother. He didn’t look at all like the politicians we were used to! Some time later Rob Oakeshott switched and was elected the member for Lyne, the Federal seat of the same area. He had started off as a National Party member but had ultimately left that party and decided to become an independent. Two years later in 2010 he would become one of the most important keys in a hung election as two sides desperately struggled to make a government.

After reading The Road To Ruin recently, which touched on how Abbott had struggled and then ultimately failed to form that government in 2010, I remembered that I’d bought my former local member Rob Oakeshott’s book ages ago and it was sitting on my iPad. I grew up in his electorate – we moved there when I was 11 in 1993, before he was elected and I left for University in 2001. I still return around once a year and keep relatively up to date with local issues via my family who all still live there. I thought it might be an interesting time to tackle Oakeshott’s book and see what he had to say about negotiating with Abbott and Gillard. Funnily enough at the time of that 2010 election, I lived (and still do) in Julia Gillard’s local electorate.

Oakeshott enjoyed incredible popularity in the Lyne electorate despite leaving the party that had dominated the area for years – he quite obviously liked the lifestyle and had a lot of passion for bringing the area up to date. It’s changed significantly in the thirty years my grandmother has been living there – when we used to visit her on holidays in around 1989-90, they only had two television stations! We moved there in 1993 and it was still almost a sleepy coastal town that only really came alive at Christmas time when the population swelled with holiday makers. Now it’s busier than ever with a growing population (one of the fastest growing areas in New South Wales) and a need for facilities and infrastructure that match its growth. In 2010 he was passionate about climate change and NBN (the National Broadband Network) and those were the two areas that Abbott claimed that he would not budge on. Abbott was a noted climate skeptic with a focus on coal energy and once described the science of human-caused climate change as “crap”.

Although broken down into segments, the book does occasionally flit from topic to topic almost like you’re having coffee with Oakeshott (which he’d probably pay for) and he’s talking to you and relating things as he remembers them. There’s a lot of policy and information, not my strong point but it certainly came across to me that Oakeshott is very thorough, clever and knowledgeable. He didn’t strike me as a “game player” although this was the criticism leveled at him during the 17 days it took him and his fellow independents to decide who they were going to give confidence and supply to. It actually seems like he leaned towards Abbott really and attempted to negotiate with him but was unable to get the response or confidence that he needed in order to make that decision. Gillard on the other hand seemed more willing, more open to negotiation and actually more in line with a lot of Oakeshott’s policies. Like many others who have personal experience with her, he describes her as warm and funny, very enjoyable to be around and that she wasn’t best portrayed with prepared speeches.

Oakeshott attracted a lot of attention and criticism in the days leading up to his decision and in the after. He was a former National Party member in a seat that prior to his independence, had ties to the National Party for forever. He’d gone with Labor and Oakeshott had been concerned how that would go over in his electorate. In actual fact one of my grandparents railed on the decision to me one day when I was visiting a couple of months after the election. The right wing friendly press were savage on him, radio was savage to him and I’m sure he was probably bemused and a bit baffled by it. The seat of Lyne had probably never held so much national interest before and may not ever again (well that’s probably a certainty. For the last election, the Federal lines were redrawn and Lyne now sits in the southern part of where it was, with it’s old seat mostly swallowed up by the division of Cowper, a ridiculously large and populous electorate that now encompasses both Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie). Despite retiring, Oakeshott decided to throw his hat into the Cowper ring at the last minute……probably if the old Lyne still existed, he’d have smashed it. As it was with the bigger area, he lost to the incumbent of Cowper but still managed to turn a safe seat into a marginal one. Chances are all his votes came from the southern part of Cowper, all those old Lyne residents who remember everything he did in office. Because I think there are few who would claim that he didn’t passionately serve his area and serve it well.

I enjoyed this more than I thought I would – perhaps because I have a connection to the area although very little is about the area itself. It’s more about the reasoning for the decision, the events that led to him making that choice, almost a justification perhaps, of why he ultimately went with Gillard when it was probably expected that he’d go with Abbott. Oakeshott is at times, brutally honest about mistakes and blunders he made but ultimately I think he believes he made the right decision for his electorate.


Book #137 of 2017





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: