My quarter century: Bass MP reflects

IT’S the question everyone’s asking him.
Will you retire at the 2014 state election Ken?
He’s good natured about having to respond yet again. He’ll make a decision at the end of this year when pre selection is likely. He’ll turn 70 at the end of next year.
Ken Smith is the member for the Legislative Assembly seat of Bass.
He said he loves what he does, his health is good but he needs to discuss the issue with Dawn, his wife of 46 years. She’s been a Trojan throughout their married life, raising their three sons while Ken worked hard in his plumbing business before his entry into politics.

Starting out: Ken Smith on his first day as a Victorian MP, entering the office vacated by a retiring Roy Ward.

Starting out: Ken Smith on his first day as a Victorian MP, entering the office vacated by a retiring Roy Ward.

And that came about through a connection of hers.
Speaking on the eve of his 25th anniversary as a Victorian Parliamentarian, Ken said Dawn encouraged her husband to attend a function where MP Jeff Kennett was speaking. Ken had followed his family’s tradition of voting Labor, but after listening to Mr Kennett at that event in 1980, he turned to Dawn and said, “I must be a Liberal.”
He joined the party that night, took different branch positions, joined the Victorian executive and eventually stood for pre selection for a Lower House seat. He wasn’t successful but two weeks later, gained pre selection for the Legislative Council seat of South Eastern Province from which the late Roy Ward was retiring.
“I was pre selected on the first ballot which was a pretty good sign,” Ken said.
Two others who entered parliament at the same time were Denis Napthine and Peter Hall. Dr Napthine is now Premier and Mr Hall the Minister for Higher Education and Minister Responsible for the Teaching Profession.
Ken himself is the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, a role he both relishes and finds exasperating. He said it’s a good thing the Speaker no longer has a gavel because there are some politicians he’d be tempted to hurl it at.
But there’s karma there because Opposition tactics on the floor of the house are no different from the ones Ken himself has employed in the past.
During the last sitting, Ken reminded his unruly parliamentary colleagues they were not at a game of football.
After serving the Legislative Council for 14 years, Ken took up the cudgels to try to wrest the new seat of Bass from Independent Susan Davies. She had come to parliament on a by-election, representing the old seat of Gippsland West, vacated in 1996 by Alan Brown who had been appointed Victoria’s Agent-General in London.
Ken tipped her out in 2002.
He maintains two offices; one in Wonthaggi, the other in Pakenham, staffed by people who are part of the reason he loves his work.
There’s further appeal – helping constituents.
“I know it sounds corny, but I really enjoy that. My door is open to everyone. If they want help, they get it.”
He relishes their letters of thanks.
But it’s not all rosy for politics has a nasty side.
Ken experienced that in 1992 when, as a board member of the Independent News Group, the ALP claimed he was in “an office of profit” because the group’s newspaper was taking government advertising, a government he was part of.
“That was a real drama for me because my integrity was being questioned.
“I was cleared but I had to employ a barrister and a solicitor. The paper had to open all its books, I had to open all my books and I ended up with a legal bill of $38,000 – a lot of money then.”
On the up side, Ken has enjoyed promoting Victoria in China.
“I’ve built a rapport with a number of provinces including Shandong – they made me an honorary citizen in 2004. That’s a great honour and I was pretty chuffed about that.”
He’s in China this week to receive another honorary citizenship, this time from Jiangsu Province.
The relationships are worth nurturing because China is our biggest trading partner.
Ken’s role as Speaker gives him membership of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association which assists the governments of Tuvalu and Nauru. He meets with ambassadors and consuls general, giving another interesting aspect to a varied life.

Short URL: http://thestar.com.au/?p=7936

Posted by on Jul 18 2013. Filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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