Despite big changes, John puts his people first

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Family man John Barilaro with, from left, daughters Domenica and Sofia, and wife Deanna. Photo: Holly Treadaway

Authorised by J McCormack, Suite 2 Lawrence House, Monaro Street, Queanbeyan, NSW, 2620.

A LOT has changed for John Barilaro since the 2015 NSW election but one thing that hasn’t is first and foremost, he’s the National Party member for Monaro.

It’s always been his priority. Even after his appointment as the NSW Deputy Premier in 2016.

As he faces the voters of Monaro for a third time at the March 23 NSW election, he says: “At no point did I ever think that I’d be the leader of a political party or the Deputy Premier.”

“With it comes a great responsibility, but also an opportunity where I get to balance being a local member and issues that are local.

“I’m able to look at it from a broader state perspective and because I sit on a number of committees of government in the Deputy Premier role it allows me to make decisions that are more broad than my electorate.

“My electorate will benefit from some of the decisions and it’s exciting to be Deputy Premier, but for most people who know me I don’t think that anything has changed.

“First and foremost I’m the member for Monaro and without that you don’t get any other title and I’ve always balanced that in that sense.”

Being the member for Monaro and Deputy Premier is a privilege for John, 47, of Jerrabomberra, who ran his own small business in Queanbeyan for 20 years before entering politics.

He says his parents sacrificed a lot migrating from Italy to Queanbeyan in the ‘60s.

“I think it justifies their sacrifice and their decision to move to Australia but at the same time it’s one of those humble positions that forever and a day I’ll never forget,” he says.

Now, John and his wife Deanna have a family of their own and went into the last election with two teenagers, Alessia and Domenica, who are now 22 and 17.

Since then John and Deanna were surprised with a third, Sofia, aged three.

“She was a lovely surprise and she’s just brought us so much energy,” John says.

“My girls have always been part of everything. We’re a very close family and that’s pretty much one of my greatest strengths.

“I look at everything, even as a local member in politics or in business, through a lens of being part of my family and the needs of family. That’s why this job is sometimes tough because it’s family that misses out when trying to balance the job.”

But John says he wouldn’t do it if he didn’t love it.

“Having my family helps me in the job because there are days when I go home and I just want to roll up in a ball and cry and there are days when I go home and I want to talk about some of the exciting things that we’ve done,” he says.

“As a local member, sometimes it feels like we’re a counselling service when we’re meeting some people.

“When people come to visit their local member, often it’s that last line, they’ve tried everything, the agencies, the departments, right across the board and we’re their last hope.

“So we carry a lot of that burden and being able to share that with someone like at home, just being able to talk through your day, I think that’s what makes you a better politician because if you had to carry everything it’d be difficult on your own.”

And the past year has been difficult for John who had to face a couple of health issues.

“It was a bit of a scare. I had a lump in my throat, which eventually became a cyst in my throat,” he says.

“The idea that it could have been cancer was quite frightening, especially when you’re referred to somewhere like the Kinghorn Cancer Centre and you’ve got to get looked at.

“The problem was the job was so consuming that I actually put myself second and didn’t really follow up on a lot of it.

“That was a tough four/five-month period but I got the all-clear.”

John’s perspective has since changed, but he says he’s excited to go even harder.

“I love what I do,” John says.

“I’ve been able to achieve things that actually have been life changing.

“That’s what keeps me going because every time you get this great win, even though you’ve had a tough couple of days, you’re making a real difference in people’s lives and that’s why I do it.”

Deputy Premier and member for Monaro John Barilaro… “There’s almost a quarter of a billion dollars going into schools in this region”.

‘I didn’t sign up to politics for ego or a title’

In the lead up to the March 23 NSW election Member for Monaro and NSW Deputy Premier JOHN BARILARO speaks about what inspires him to run for a third term…

Q: Since being appointed as Deputy Premier in 2016, how do you manage the challenges that come with this role, holding a marginal seat and being a father of three?

A: What it means being Deputy Premier, being a marginal seat member is that I actually work seven days a week – and that’s the truth. I’m quite active, I’m passionate about what I do and I care about my electorate.

I’ve re-written the book when it comes to balancing the electorate with Deputy Premier. Previously, Deputy Premiers would often be located in Sydney, live in Sydney, have an electorate in Sydney or spend a lot more time in Sydney (depending on their portfolios), but I try to spend as much time as I possibly can in my own electorate. I always put my community first.

Personally, family probably pays the price. Going into the last election I only had two daughters and they were teenage daughters and we were surprised with a third. But we try to do a lot together when I’m here and wherever I can in the role.

It is a balancing game between Deputy Premier, member for Monaro and family. I haven’t always got it perfectly right but there’s a decent balance.

Q: Why do you want to run for a third term?

A: Love for what I do. It might sound cliche but some of us actually care about what we got elected to do. I didn’t just sign up to be a politician or get into politics for ego or a title.

I was quite comfortable running my own business, enjoying my time as a community member on the local council, running the local soccer club and being with my family. But I’ve been able to achieve things as a politician that have been life changing.

When I have a tough day in politics I remind myself of one of my early achievements and that was building a satellite dialysis unit out at Cooma because of a lady called Rosi Schenker.

Rosi had to go in the back of an ambulance and head to Canberra three times a week for dialysis. All she ever wanted was to be able to have that health service delivery in Cooma. That was an election issue in 2011 and I committed the million dollars to do it as a commitment. It ended up costing about $1.8 million, but we built it and now she gets the best health care in Cooma.

That reminds me of the stuff I can achieve as a local member and why I do it. You actually can make a difference in life and Rosi is just one story.

Q: What are you personally passionate about as a politician and what do you think your electorate is passionate about?

A: Education is definitely at the heart of everything we do and say in this electorate. It’s always important for our community to have good education and good education services. My passion is making sure that we leave a legacy of opportunity. Any government can build roads and any government can build buildings and monuments but the bit that I want to leave is opportunity so our kids here in the Monaro have the same opportunity as someone who lives in Sydney. That means they have access to all the options around education, all the options when it comes to jobs, all the options when it comes to staying home and raising a family here.

That’s what drives me, that’s what I’m passionate about and that’s what our community is passionate about. Why? Because that’s what they tell me and that’s what I fight for.

Q: What are you doing for young adults entering the workforce after high school?

A: One of my passions as a former chippy is vocational training. It’s rare in politics that you get given ministries that you have some sort of connection to so I’m lucky that I’m the Minister for Small Business, and I spent 20 years in my own small business, and I’m the Minister for Skills, and I’ve done apprenticeships, trades and I grew up in a factory environment.

For me, I think vocational training is a really great opportunity. We often encourage kids to go to university, politicians in the past, parents in the past, communities in the past have encouraged kids to go to university but the reality is, if you look at the jobs of the future, a lot of them have a vocational training pathway, including the need for more trades.

One of the biggest things that I’m focusing on is education, but I’m also reminding people that there are two pathways. For decades we’ve been calling TAFE or vocational training the second-chance pathway. I’m trying to change that. I’m a chippy from Queanbeyan, a tradie and today Deputy Premier. All pathways lead to success.

After eight years in politics, what’s left to do?

There is some unfinished business, especially with the commitments I’ve made around education because, for me, the long-lasting legacy we can leave is one of opportunity for kids so they can get the right education in their own town.

The thing I generally do believe I’ve changed is the landscape around education. We’ve made a number of commitments for brand new schools to be built, a school for special needs, a school at Jerrabomberra, a school at Bungendore, a school at Googong. Then we’ve got all these upgrades for schools. There’s almost a quarter of a billion dollars going into schools in this region. I want to see that fulfilled.

These schools take two or three years to get built. They have now been committed, they’re not just election commitments, they’ve been in the budget, we’re in the planning stages and I would love to see that finished. I’d hate to see any of those schools or anything else get lost with a change of government.

Q: Why did you argue for Snowy Hydro funding for the bush?

A: Snowy Hydro 2.0 and the Snowy Hydro funding that we got from selling our share to the Federal government is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. Every single cent of the $4.2 billion, which I was able to argue for, will go into regional NSW.

We’re seeing record investment in regional NSW and now we get to change the landscape, we get to do things that we could have only dreamt of, probably thought about, but never had the ability to do.

Right now the number one priority, because of the drought, is water security. We’ve got to be focused on water security, more pipelines and more dams.

What are you doing for youth in regional NSW?

Over my time in politics, I’ve realised that without young people in our towns, there really is no future. Every decision we make, every choice is to grow regional NSW for the future and ensure people have a home here. That’s why it’s so important for me to address the problems faced by young people in the bush. Last year, I instigated 26 face-to-face roundtables with youth leaders, organisations and young people to hear directly from them and learn about the issues they face, and what’s working and what’s not.

The sad truth is that young people in the regions are 50 per cent more likely to commit suicide, youth unemployment is 20 per cent higher, and they are more likely to use harmful drugs which can quite simply destroy families and communities.

That’s why I’ve committed to introducing a Minister for Regional Youth, to ensure young people outside the city have a voice at the cabinet table. The Minister will deliver NSW’s first Regional Youth Strategy to address the unique issues facing young people in our towns.

How are you breaking the mould for regional politics?

If you look at my time from 2011 right through, I’ve done some odd things where I’ve called out my own ministers, who haven’t done the right thing on behalf of my community. I’ve called out the government, I’ve actually said when we’ve got it wrong. I’ve put my hand up. You don’t often get that from governments and from ministers. I’ve travelled, I’ve made myself available, I give out my mobile number to pretty much anyone that I meet, which is rare. It’s hard to keep up sometimes because it never stops.

I call it as it is. I’m a chippy from Queanbeyan, brought up in a country town and I haven’t changed that style in being a politician. That’s the difference. It’s why I think I cut through, it’s why I think I’ve changed the mould.

Q: How do you make yourself available to your electorate with such a busy schedule?

A: I’m very accessible as a local member. I turn up. I turn up to those tough town hall meetings where we, as government, have to explain ourselves. I turn up to listen and engage, and I love what I do. I don’t feel it’s a chore but I am busy and my diary can prove it.  I’ve been privileged to serve as the Member for Monaro.

Celebrating our milestones and joining community groups have been some of the best moments. As well as these celebrations and deliveries, I have enjoyed working with the community on the tough things too.

The campaigns to have roads sealed, the plights for funding for important community projects and the moments I have spent with individuals who need a life-impacting problem solved have been some of my most privileged experiences.

Q: Why vote for John Barilaro on March 23?

A: I’m born and bred in Queanbeyan. I bleed Queanbeyan. I love this place. I’m a family man here, I’ve run a business here, I’ve been the local member for eight years. I have the energy and the fight and the proven record of delivery. I’m ready to go round for a third term and, if elected, I’m going to work my guts out to finish everything that we, me and the community, have started together.

This isn’t John Barilaro being able to deliver this stuff on his own, everything we do and everything we’ve done over the last eight years has actually been in a partnership with my community.

I’m a hard-working, passionate advocate for this region and, if the electorate agrees, I’ll seek their support on March 23.

Authorised by J McCormack, Suite 2 Lawrence House, Monaro Street, Queanbeyan, NSW, 2620.

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