Mary Porter AM, MLA. Where do I start? Here is a woman who has devoted her entire adult life to community service in real time. I’ve met and served with many pollies who have professed to be servants of the people but when you scratch the surface, you find that community service was a means to an end rather than the end in itself.
I count Mary Porter as one of the real few friends I had in my political life. In that game, it is usually a bear pit with undermining, false friendships and fair weather friendships between people who have the common interest of self-grandiosity. People coalesce as mutual admiration societies as long as success surrounds them. When success disappears or rivalries emerge, exit friendship in the true sense. Loyalty is a cheap and transitory commodity.
When Mary Porter gave you her friendship, it was like receiving a little part of her. I went through the dark days of the soul a number of times in my political career and having Mary there was more support than I can describe.
I knew Mary vaguely as a staffer for Ros Kelly when I was only new to the Labor Party and a big Ros Kelly fan. She was doing constituent support work. She was the person behind the Member. She was the person to whom people came for help, in Ros’s name. Annette Ellis worked in the same work for Ros and they had the same approach. That of service.
Mary was the driver, in my mind, behind the Tuggeranong Community Service, which later became part of the Communities at Work empire. Again, Mary has engaged in an organisation looking after people in distress or people wanting support services.
I guess this is the sort of work people drift into when they move from nursing. The need to provide succour is in their DNA. It certainly is in Mary’s DNA.
We came together politically a couple of times at annual conferences and such but didn’t really connect until the 2004 election for the Legislative Assembly and Mary was giving it a tilt. It soon became obvious that Mary, a late starter in the art/science of politics was going to be a permanent feature in the Assembly.
Her commitment to her “people of Belco” set the high jump bar up a further couple of notches. I thought that my own priority of service to Tuggers, over ministerial work at times, was pretty good until along came Mary and reset the standard. Her mobile offices became the stuff of legend.
Many in the community, out there in voter land, don’t know how hard MLAs work (if they have a mind to, given that not all of them actually do!). Over the years, Mary juggled being a committee chair, a member of committees, Deputy Speaker, advocate or sensitive issues which for her were defining ones like euthanasia, and her work for the “people of Belco”. But the mobile offices was the ants’ pants for Mary. She revelled in it. It was just a natural part of her life.
When I think back of about the chats we had when we had backbench desks together, I remind myself that she didn’t use the organisations or the Assembly for her personal ends. Rather, it was the other way round. The organisations she worked with and for, exploited her need to serve and the clients were the better for it.
She is a salutary lesson to aspiring pollies. I have often said that being part of community organisations won’t get people elected but the absence of community service will stop someone from being elected. I have neglected to advise that if people use community organisations for a political end their success will be transitory. This is because the raison d’etre for that service is a notion of self instead of service. Mary Porter is the epitome of the DNA driven need to serve.
She didn’t need to be part of some unrepresentative forum of complainers who fixate on planning issues, she didn’t need to be part of organisations which can attract the media attention from time to time. She deported herself with a quiet dignity which effused that sense of calm and common sense. These commodities are part of the skill set Mary has in her armoury.
Aspiring pollies should examine themselves and see if they can measure up to the standards set by Mary Porter. And if they can’t, back to the drawing board for them. Glitz and glamour are not pre-requisites for service. Real time commitment, coupled with real time experience and a graduate diploma from the University of Hard Knocks are the real qualifications needed.
As with many in the game of representation, the amount of time, the intensity of effort, and the often isolated position this work delivers, can be telling on one’s health. The physical bit is something which just turns up and you have to deal with it. And sometimes in the end, it is this which takes the athlete out of the game. Such is the case with my friend Mary.
But, and this is a really important thing to note, Baby Pollies, the black dog lurks. The amount of psychological pressure which comes with the territory is huge and the way to avoid succumbing to the dog or just to the darkness of self-doubt, is to have a partner who will share your innermost fears and lack of self-confidence. Mary has Ian. Ian is the non-paid partner, he is part of the job lot we get when we elect someone like Mary. How good is that? What a team they make!
I was lucky in the same way and I have hopes for some of our aspiring candidates from both sides.
Mary has turned the page on another chapter of her life. We all owe her a huge debt. I certainly do because she kept me intact on more occasions than she knows. How many of us can say of a colleague that it was a pleasure and a privilege to have served with them? I do say that about Mary Porter, my friend and my colleague.
(Image from Mary Porter MLA twitter.)