Economy, education and climate are key issues, says Wills Labor MP Kelvin Thomson

Kelvin Thomson MP receiving a petition from Ellen Roberts of Climate Action Moreland on 13 June 2012

14 August 2013

Wills Labor MP Kelvin Thomson identifies economic stability, education and climate change as key issues and outlines his background as a defender of the local environment, in an interview with Wills citizen journalist .

Kelvin has been the member for Wills (See Seat profilein Melbourne’s north since 1996. He has a legal background, has served in many shadow portfolios and as parliamentary secretary for trade, and is now parliamentary secretary for schools. He is said to be an effective politician in his portfolio areas and has been a dedicated local member.

As the local MP, in 2000 he wrote a basic pro-forma character reference for a local businessman, Tony Mokbel. It was well before Mokbel’s criminal activities were widely known. When the information was leaked to the media in 2007, it resulted in Thomson’s resignation as shadow attorney general. Members of parliament are often called upon to do basic character references for constituents and whether this action was poor judgment, poor luck or a bit of both, it certainly diminished Thomson’s political career. This is probably a loss for the Labor  cabinet and the nation.

Thomson provided candid answers to my questions, sometimes taking care to choose his responses, especially in regard to more controversial topics on refugees, data privacy and taxation reform.

John Englart: You have represented the people of this area, Moreland, in all three tiers of government – as Coburg Council’s deputy mayor, state member for Pascoe Vale, and now the member for Wills. Which have you found the most satisfying?

Kelvin Thomson: That is an excellent question. I really enjoyed the council time because we were effectively in government – the majority of councillors for all my time there were Labor councillors and we worked very effectively as a team. We would have disagreements with individual councillors on particular issues of course , but they never turned into personal or factional-type conflict. You might disapprove of one councillor at one meeting, but the next meeting you would think that councillor was absolutely spot on, so I always felt my time there was very constructive and positive. That is not to diminish in any sense the opportunities I have had since then subsequently as a state and federal MP.

If you have followed my career at all, you will have realised that a lot of it was spent in opposition, at both state and federal levels. Not in easy times. The state parliament when I was up, it was not long before Pyramid and Tri-continental collapsed, and we had a very difficult time of recession and economic restructuring. And then in 1992 Jeff Kennett became premier and that wasn’t an easy time to be a member of parliament. Jeff pretty much believed politics was a body contact sport, and we’d be sitting to 7am in the morning and things like that.

Then when I entered federal parliament, that was in 1996, at a time when Labor suffered a very big defeat. The numbers in the federal parliament were basically 2 to 1, and of course John Howard had a long period in office. That period in opposition, very good in terms of learning, but in terms of having the opportunity to do things, more difficult. After the September 11 attacks it was not easy. We didn’t do ourselves any favours with the leadership struggles we had during that period as well.

John Englart: So what do you think are the main local issues in this election that concern the citizens of Wills?

Kelvin Thomson: I think that economic stability and progress is still extremely important. When I first became the member for this area, we had experienced unemployment of 20%. It was way too high and very difficult for many people in Wills. One of the things I’ve really worked at over the years, I’m very pleased to say, has been a significant reduction in unemployment in this area in this community, to the point where our unemployment levels are not only much lower than they were back then, but also they are comparable with the state and federal averages. Whereas back at that time we were well above the national average. I think that continues to be a very key issue and why I’ve been involved in lots of local endeavours in support of local manufacturing and things like the automotive industry, because I just think that is critical.

I also think that education and schools are critical and I’m pleased to have the opportunity as parliamentary secretary for schools to support the Better Schools Plan. It does involve extra resources for schools in this electorate as well as every other electorate right around the country. I think we need to invest in our young people and their education. If we don’t, we will find it harder to compete with other countries who are becoming more competitive, who are putting resources into education and that we will be selling our young people short.

The other thing that I think is really important for this area is being part of transition to renewable energy. I got interested in politics because I was interested in environmental issues. I think that climate change is a serious and pressing problem for the world, and I think that this community has a pretty strong sense of that, understanding of that. We have a very active climate groups in this area and I want this area to be part of the transition to renewable energy, and indeed to be Australian leaders in this transition.

Thomson is also actively committed to local environmental restoration and open space in the electorate. In answering a question on why he opposed the building of the planned East-West tollroad tunnel by the state Liberal government, he provided this background:

Kelvin Thomson: I don’t know if you know, John, but I set up the Friends of Moonee Ponds Creek way back in 1989 after I got into the state parliament, because I have been keen on environmental things and I thought this area of space had suffered a lot of indignity. The old Board of Works concrete lined much of the creek. So we have tried to do things to rejuvenate the creek valley. Some places I think we have had a lot of success. Up around the Jacana retarding basin, there are very attractive wetland areas. We have done some good things. We have got a great bike link going down there now. The latest I’ve noticed in the [East-West tunnel] plans are fly-overs all over the Moonee Ponds Creek that will damage areas that have had a lot of work.

More contributions from this interview with Kelvin Thomson and other candidates will follow in a series of articles on election issues in Wills. You can read biographical information on Kelvin Thomson on Wikipedia or visit his website. He is also on Facebook and Twitter (@KelvinThomsonMP).

See previous Wills election reports

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