Following his victory at the recent state election, Member for Gippsland East Tim Bull spoke with Gippsland Times journalist Tom Parry about the positive outcomes for his party, The Nationals; where it went wrong for their coalition partner, the Liberal Party; and his stance on the Voice to Parliament.

 

Gippsland Times: Congratulations on your win; you were not only re-elected to the seat of Gippsland East, but returned with an increased majority – what do you put that result down to?

Tim Bull: Look, being a local representative, you can’t make everybody happy all of the time; that’s basically an impossibility, especially when you have differing views in the community on certain issues. But I think what the community members generally want is, they want to be listened to, and I think at the end of the day – even if you might disagree with somebody’s point of view, they’re generally happy and respectful if you’ve listened to them, heard their argument, heard them out and given them a good hearing. I always try and do that, and obviously on polling day, I don’t know how people are going to vote; but to receive an increase of that margin, I guess was humbling – probably tells you that you’re getting some things right. But from a statewide perspective, while it was a pleasing result for me locally, it was certainly a bittersweet result in that we find ourselves in another four years of opposition.

 

Touching on that point, The Nationals did really well in seats like Gippsland South and Morwell, and won back seats in northern Victoria; what do you believe those results are due to? What is your party doing right that the Liberal Party didn’t?

I think we’ve got a good reputation of giving strong representation to our communities, and I think country people want a strong voice in parliament, and I think The Nationals provide that. We don’t run any candidates in urban seats, so we’re not compromised by that, and we can present a very clear country perspective to parliament, and I think that that resonates that we only stand, obviously, candidates in country areas. I also think we came up with some exceptional candidates this time around who are already local champions in their own right, and I think that played a role in our success statewide as well.

Maffra Show president Tim Dwyer and Member for Gippsland East Tim Bull under the new DomeShelter. Photo: File

With that in mind, what do you think the Liberals could learn from The Nationals and take to the next state election in four years’ time?

I’ll preface what I’m about to say by saying, I don’t enjoy when other parties provide political commentary on The Nationals, so I try and refrain from providing political commentary on other parties. Having said that, what I will say to you is that I think communities – whether they are city or country – want a common-sense, middle-of-the-road approach in relation to their political parties, and I think that’s what we provided, and our communities responded to that.

 

Given Labor is back in power and the Liberal-National coalition is in opposition, how certain are you that you’ll be able to deliver on your election commitments?

Look, that’s obviously a job that’s at the top of my priority list when parliament resumes. We have achieved a number of things in my electorate in opposition, and I am keen to work with the government ministers to progress that, and then make sure we continue (to) achieve for our community. A number of the pre-election commitments that we made were somewhat specifically local; some were around roads and health that need more investment, so we need to pursue those matters both from a statewide and a local perspective. Obviously, we commit to things like sporting facilities and fire stations – they need to be pursued through those particular communities, and I certainly intend to do that. I relation to the wider investments in health and roads, probably one of the bigger ones is the dilemma facing the timber industry, they’re all matters we need to prosecute strongly when parliament resumes, on behalf of our region but also country areas statewide. And I look forward to doing that.

Ash McDonough, Tim Bull and Ray Adams observe plans for the refurbished Boisdale Recreation Reserve. Photo: File

Your electorate encompasses part of the Wellington Shire, including regions such as Heyfield, Maffra and Stratford; what are your priorities in that area of your electorate?

For that area, the priorities will be basically related to what your last question was, and that is… try and deliver on the pre-election commitments I made, so upgrades to the Maffra Hospital is something I want to pursue; ensuring the community hospital at Heyfield remains viable, which was another pre-election commitment we made; ensuring that our sporting facilities are up-to-scratch, and Boisdale-Briag, we made a significant commitment out there that I want to see realised (upgrades to the Football-Netball Club). When people talk about sporting facilities, I’m a strong believer that sport can play a key role in solving a lot of our problems that we have in wider society; I think if you can get our young people into sporting clubs, either as players, helpers or administrators, it puts them in around good role-models, and puts them in a good, friendly environment, and I think that helps a lot of our kids with their development of their behaviours and their social skills. (If) we get kids into our sport, I think they’re all the better for it, so I’m a really strong advocate for making sure we have facilities that meet the needs of our communities. And obviously, the road network – whilst you’re talking specifically about the Wellington Shire end, all of Country Victoria needs a massive increase in road funding, which has been cut in recent years; and when you cut road maintenance funding, it can only end one way, and we need to reverse that and make sure we have significant investment into our roads, particularly after all the wet weather we’ve had, which has made a problem that existed prior to the wet weather even worse. They would probably be my priorities down that neck of the woods.

 

On another matter, regarding the Indigenous Voice to Parliament, your federal Nationals colleagues are advocating a “No” vote at the proposed referendum on the issue, a stance which has been backed by your state leader, Peter Walsh; what’s your stance on the issue?

Look, when Peter Walsh made that statement – and I don’t know if you saw it in the media or not – Peter’s commentary was that we are lacking detail on it (the Voice) and what he wants to see, and what I want to see, is more detail on the actual proposal. So at the moment, we have the federal government saying that we’re going to have a vote on the voice, and then a parliamentary committee will go away after that vote, and determine how it will be structured – what the representation will be, who it will be made up of, what their role will be. Now, I think that the Australian community, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, when they’re being asked to vote on something, they need the basic detail of what they’re actually voting on. So I remain very open-minded about it, as do the Victorian Nationals, and what our leader (Peter Walsh) said the other day was, in its current form and without that current information, it’s very hard to vote “Yes”. But we would hope that prior to any referendum, we get more detail and more information released, so that people can make an informed choice and vote accordingly. And that is my very strong view – I’m quite open-minded about this, but I’d like more detail on how it’s going to be structured, how it’ll work, and more importantly, how it’ll improve outcomes for our Indigenous community.