The ACT’s new Independent Senator may believe in collaboration and a new way of doing politics, but the quiet man will have no qualms about waving a big stick if required.
Speaking to Region Media after the Australian Electoral Commission distributed preferences to propel him over the line to take Liberal Zed Seselja’s seat in one of the election’s great upsets, David Pocock said he knew all along that joining the Senate crossbench would potentially put him into a position where he could hold the balance of power.
With a to-do list that includes key campaign issues like territory rights, an integrity commission, action on climate change and a fairer infrastructure deal for the ACT, he isn’t about to let the new government walk away from its commitments and what’s right for the country.
While he acknowledged Australia was facing a tough budget situation and the unfolding energy crisis, he said Labor should keep faith with voters.
“I think there’s real opportunity to ensure that the government delivers on its promises,” he said.
“And that legislation that passes through is in the best interests [of the nation] and is actually dealing with these big problems.”
Mr Pocock saw his job as holding the government to account and getting the best possible deal for the ACT.
That would include horsetrading if necessary, but he planned to be pragmatic and constructive to achieve outcomes. However, one thing he won’t compromise on is the establishment of an integrity commission with teeth.
“One of the messages that was loud and clear … is that people are so sick and tired of issues being politicised to the point that we just don’t get action and everyone misses out. I think we’ve got to move beyond that,” Mr Pocock said.
He acknowledged it would be a balancing act, but he would be putting an ACT lens on issues.
“We need to see more of a focus on Canberra. Politically, it’s not probably a great thing to do, but it’s something that needs to happen.
“I’ll be pushing for that. If it comes down to negotiating good outcomes for the people I represent, I’m happy to do that.”
Mr Pocock said he had already met with Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee to hear their concerns, as well as new Minister for Territories Kristy McBain about moving forward on repealing the Andrews Bill so the ACT could debate and legislate voluntary assisted dying in the Legislative Assembly if it decides to.
He believed now was the time to overturn the Andrews Bill and give Canberrans the right to decide for themselves, and it wouldn’t cost the Albanese Government anything.
Mr Pocock said energy consumers were paying the price of a decade of inaction that avoided the policy settings required to encourage the transition from fossil fuels.
He said the government needed to press on with a plan for that transition and invest in research and development, particularly for moving industry off gas.
“We’ve got to be working on both the generation side of things, but then also the household level. How do we unlock those savings that come with electrifying households?”
Mr Pocock said that as a new Senator it would be a steep learning curve at Parliament House, but he had sought advice from Tasmanian Independent Jacqui Lambie. Members of his campaign team also had plenty of experience in the public service and knowledge about the Senate.
“Over the next month or so, we’ll be doing a lot of reading and preparing for it,” he said. “It’s a great challenge. A lot to learn. Very exciting.”
He would also kick off in July the first of what will be quarterly town hall meetings to hear community concerns and aspirations, report back to constituents and stay connected to the electorate, including those who didn’t vote for him.
“To me, that’s what democracy is – you vote for someone who’s going to work for you,” Mr Pocock said.
On election night, a supporter told Mr Pocock that his young daughter had wanted to volunteer on election day to hand out how to vote cards and asked her why.
“And she said, ‘Well, Dad, I can volunteer for David on election day, and then he’ll work for me’,” Mr Pocock said. “That’s such a good way of putting it. The kids get it. That’s the way it should be.”