AS Canberra Liberals leader Jeremy Hanson announced his party’s reshuffle of responsibilities, few portfolios looked more fitting than those of MLA Nicole Lawder.
The former Homelessness Australia chief executive, who replaced Zed Seselja six months ago, will take on the party’s new responsibilities of housing, environment and family and community service, which she describes as “areas close to the heart”.
“These are portfolios I’m extremely passionate about given my background with Homelessness Australia, they’re a good fit and something I can really sink my teeth into,” Lawder says.
The reshuffle sees Mr Hanson hold the portfolios of attorney-general and police, and remain the Opposition spokesman for health and veterans’ affairs.
Deputy Opposition Leader Alistair Coe will continue with urban services, planning and infrastructure, transport and heritage, while treasury spokesman and Opposition whip Brendan Smyth retains industrial relations, emergency services, arts and tourism, gaming and racing and higher education.
Steve Doszpot will remain spokesperson for education and training, ICT, ageing and sport and recreation, while new MLA Andrew Wall has added corrections to his responsibilities of small business and disability services, youth and indigenous affairs and Giulia Jones retains women and multicultural affairs while picking up the new area of mental health.
Lawder admits she has an emotional connection with her portfolios, particularly in housing and homelessness, but will take a “pragmatic approach” to the responsibilities.
“It’s certainly a challenge I face, but I think you can be passionate about it while at the same time being reasonably pragmatic because you’re trying to achieve particular outcomes,” she says.
“With homelessness in particular, I’ve heard some terrible stories of abuse and neglect, which are absolutely devastating. But it makes me more determined to fix these problems.
“You can go home and vent about these things, but the focus is always on achieving the outcome. It makes me feel satisfied. I’ve always believed politicians and philanthropists should focus on the policy, the economic side and be a bit more pragmatic and leave the emotional, the personal stories, to the actual individuals.”
Lawder says her central focus in the housing portfolio will be on the Government’s affordable housing action plan.
“Affordable housing is like the flip-side of homelessness, if you don’t have affordable housing you can easily tip over into homelessness,” she says.
“So I’ll be absolutely focusing on holding the Government to account on their affordable housing action plan, while also working on bringing the Liberals’ affordable housing plan to the next election.”
Her goal in the environment sector is improving the quality of the “appalling” Tuggeranong wetlands, she says, while pushing the nature conservation function into one agency.
On the community services front, the safety of children is her number one concern.
“We’ve heard some terrible cases in the press recently, and we’ve heard 21 per cent of child deaths were of children who were known to the community services directorate which is very troubling,” Lawder says.
“So I’ll be going through what are the causes of this, whether it’s staff shortages or another issue, because our children should be safe at all times.”
Lawder says she’s aware there’s “some sort of historical perception” that her portfolios lean towards the Labor Party, but she is determined to change public perception.
“I know from my involvement with the Liberal Party there are many people there involved with the community sector, and I’m proud to bring my background and experience in that area to the party, I’m very much looking forward to the challenge,” she says.