Eight years after he last strode the Macquarie St corridors as the Member for Monaro, Steve Whan is once again throwing his hat into the ring for the forthcoming NSW state election.
He is a last-minute replacement for former Raiders captain Terry Campese who withdrew from the race under significant media scrutiny over his associates and personal life.
Mr Whan represented Monaro in the NSW Legislative Assembly for the Labor Party from 2003 until his defeat by John Barilaro at the 2011 state election and then filled a casual vacancy in the NSW Upper House.
He failed to dislodge Mr Barilaro in 2015 and will now face off against national incumbent Nichole Overall, who won the seat in a 2022 by-election. Mr Barilaro resigned as Member for Monaro and Deputy Premier in the midst of a dramatic period for state politics around then-premier Gladys Berejiklian’s downfall.
Mr Whan is pragmatic about the circumstances in which Labor finds itself but is also insistent that he’s got plenty of ideas and energy for the role.
“It’s a fairly short time to the election and losing Terry meant there was a need to have somebody with a chance of winning,” he told Region.
“I’ve been out of politics for eight years but have kept passionately engaged in rural and regional issues, in particular. I still have quite a bit to offer.
“[Labor leader] Chris Minns talked to me about governing for the long term rather than a short term, grants-style government, and that’s what I’m interested in – how do we fund decent staffing for schools and hospitals long term, how do communities get the services we need?”
Mr Whan says at 59, he’s fit and energetic, having spent a lot of his semi-retirement bike riding and bike packing while keeping in touch with regional issues in his directorial roles.
His ministerial portfolios included Rural Affairs and Primary Industry, and after leaving NSW Parliament, he spent several years as CEO of the National Irrigators Council. He is currently a director of Murrumbidgee Irrigation Limited and a member of the advisory committee for WaterTrust Australia, an independent policy think tank focussed on Australia’s inland water resources.
“Obviously, I’ve got no illusions about how hard and close this will be,” he says of the March 24 election.
“It’s up to me to show voters that I can represent those long-term issues for the region and be part of a Labor government delivering for the long term.
“There is a really serious housing crisis in the electorate, particularly with the pressures from the Snowy II project and the forthcoming ski season. There are plenty of road issues, and my daughter, a school teacher, has been telling me about students who are in playgrounds instead of classes because teacher shortages are so critical in NSW.
“I’m making no assumptions about the outcome of the election, but this is about giving the Monaro voters an alternative.”
He didn’t intend to stand again but says he’s been pleasantly surprised by the number of people urging him to do so and promising their support. His wife and adult children are also encouraging him to throw his hat in the ring, a key consideration.
“At no stage have I lost the fire in the belly for the community and the desire to make a difference in government”, he says.
“Over 55s aren’t washed up; there’s plenty of life in me yet!”