In an already feverish electoral atmosphere, Canberra voters are the latest to be offered an alternative to incumbent hard-right conservatives. Canberra businessman Anthony Pesec, a former investment banker and renewable energy developer, has announced he’ll stand for the Senate as an independent candidate.
ACT electoral history indicates that a full Labor quota for the Senate is all but guaranteed. In 2013, Greens candidate Simon Sheikh ran Senator Zed Seselja to the wire over several weeks of counting, but traditionally the Liberals have always taken the second seat, albeit with a lower proportion of the vote than the ALP.
Pesec is Chapman born and bred, having returned to Canberra four years ago after spending around a decade setting up investment banking in Croatia. His parents left “an oppressive Communist regime” in the former Yugoslavia for the ACT, settling here permanently in the late 60’s to establish a family business as builders. Pesec still lives in the house he grew up in.
He’s a product of Chapman Primary, Weston Creek High and Stirling College, followed by a degree in Civil Engineering at UNSW. He has an MBA and after working in the UK, was prompted by both curiosity and the British weather to try his luck in Croatia as it was entering the EU.
Strongly motivated by concerns about climate change, he’s been investing in renewable energy for around 15 years and now runs Intelligent Energy Solutions, which trades and invests in solar energy capacity. Politically, he’s galvanised by climate change action, economic policy and Territory rights, positioning himself at “the sensible centre”.
In a fraught political climate with a Federal election looming, there has been considerable backlash against incumbent conservatives, says Genevieve Jacobs. And with the breaking news that Canberra businessman Anthony Pesec will be throwing his hat into the ring as a "moderate, centre-right" independent candidate for the Senate, Genevieve asks him the big questions, including whether he’s making a pitch for Zed Seselja’s seat.
Posted by The RiotACT on Sunday, February 24, 2019
“Renewable energy is the first thing I’ve been really passionate about,” he says. “The ideological discussion about climate change, whether it’s really happening and what we should be doing about it in Australia is extremely frustrating in a sector where you can actually measure and quantify impacts.”
“It’s insane not to adopt a clean energy policy that benefits everybody without being a subsidy-driven social issue. We could look at it as an investment in growth opportunity for Australia at a point when we need to replace our ageing generators.” By contrast, he describes current Federal renewable energy policy as “completely incoherent”.
He’s also angered by what he sees as a critical lack of representation in the ACT. “Since self-government, Canberrans have wanted the right to choose our own course and we haven’t had good representation”, he says. “Gary Humphries crossed the floor during the Howard government (over same-sex marriage legislation). We haven’t seen that courage since. Euthanasia, marriage equality and the like are complex and subjective issues, but it’s not right to ignore your own constituency.”
Pesec denies he’s a Liberal in disguise while admitting that’s predominantly where his vote has gone in the past, although he’s also voted Labor. He also denies that he’s simply in this to take on Zed Seselja, despite reports that the moderate Liberal breakaway Menzies Group is re-energising ahead of the election.
“If Bill Shorten is elected, it will be with the lowest popularity rating of any Prime Minister in history. That indicates to me that a lot of voters are not so keen on Labor but turned off by the complete implosion of bickering inside the parties”
He says a clear Shorten victory will imply a mandate on policies like negative gearing and franking credits reform that he finds economically worrying, whereas a strong Senate crossbench can make or break the politics. While concurring with the Greens on some environmental policies, he says they’ve done a poor job of achieving real change and come with a raft of less acceptable social directions.
“Maybe it’s an arrogant perspective from an outsider, but there seem to be too many career politicians who are focused on themselves than representing their constituents,” he says.
So where will the money come from for what’s clearly a serious campaign with serious backing? Pesec is coy at this stage on who his supporters are but says there’s business and political funding from both inside and outside the ACT. He admits to being part of the wave of money for centrist candidates and says disclosure laws will be adhered to fully when the time comes.
Common interests in renewable energy had already put him in contact with Malcom Turnbull’s son, Alex, who has been open about his intentions to fund locally based, moderate candidates who want action on climate change.
And is Pesec’s candidacy a long term prospect or a flash in the pan? “I view the House of Representatives and the Senate as parallels to executive management and the corporate board. You don’t get into those positions without experience and I hope I’ve got enough real-world experience to do a good job for the future,” he says.
It seems clear that denials to the contrary, Pesec is looking to gain moderate Liberal votes, to shift environmentally-conscious voters who aren’t in love with Green social policies, and some centrist Labor supporters. That means a dogfight, especially on the right. So has this quietly spoken businessman got enough fire in the belly for some potentially nasty politics?
Pesec laughs. “Investment banking could be pretty nasty. So was working on large construction sites like Sydney Airport with strict curfews, and aggressive unions barking down my throat. I’ve worked in high-stress environments before. I’m looking forward to this one.”