AFTER announcing he would step down as The Nationals WA member for the South West at the upcoming State election, Colin Holt spoke to Farm Weekly journalist BREE SWIFT about his passion for developing young people, servicing the needs of those living regionally and politics as a whole.
Since becoming The Nationals WA member in 2005, Mr Holt has been on five parliamentary committees, served as the minister for Housing; Racing, Gaming and Liquor in the Liberal National government and from 2009- 2013 was the party’s State president.
He was also part of the team that developed and delivered the Royalties for Regions (RfR) program while The Nationals WA were in government.
Upon his retirement from politics, Mr Holt said he hopes to find a new role in which he can still contribute to the State and put his previous experience to use.
QUESTION: You studied zoology at The University of WA, if you hadn’t entered politics, do you think you would have followed this career path?
ANSWER: I did work for the ag department for 16 years and my degree obviously got me the job, so I did use it in some ways and some would say that I do work in a zoo (politics) as a bit of a connection.
I am a strong believer that things you do in your past you can use to prepare you for the next part of your life or career move.
Q: Born in Goomalling, you’ve lived in numerous regional and remote areas of Western Australia including Derby, Halls Creek, Bruce Rock, Carnarvon, Narrogin, Kununurra and Australind. How do you think your experience of living in these regional towns has shaped your political views?
A: I am a country lad at heart.
I grew up in Goomalling and I am the youngest of six kids.
Dad worked for PMG/Telecom/ Telstra and mum was a stay-at-home mum so I had a pretty working-class, humble upbringing.
When I was working for the ag department through the consultancy, I lived in almost every region of the State and that gave me a great foundation for understanding regional communities which I have taken into my view and work in politics.
I believe in a fair go for all regional communities and I think we need equitable access to services for regional people.
Living and working in all of those different regions and towns and raising my family there has given me a great grounding for this role.
I can draw on all of those experiences for whatever comes up in parliament, in the electorate or a policy setting as I’ve always got a point of reference.
I still know people all over the State, so if there is a question I need to ask I pick up the phone and ring people and I’m able to do that because of my time in the regions.
Q: You were the founding director of the ARID Group which provided services and knowledge to regional communities for community development outcomes including leadership development and community engagement.
What prompted you to form this company and what was your journey like as a business owner?
A: I was fortunate enough to do a leadership course when I was working for the ag department and I think that sparked my interest and passion for helping develop people.
I was very lucky to work with some like-minded business partners who started the ARID Group.
While it was very rewarding it was also bloody hard – I had four kids at school, the youngest was five – and I left the sanctuary of a regular income from the department to start a business.
I did all sorts of work to make ends meet when work got quiet, but it was a really good experience running my own business and I brought those learnings to my political life.
Q: Having represented the South West region in the Legislative Council since 2009 and strongly advocated for the area to get its fair share of State government funding over the past 12 years, out of all the projects you’ve been involved in, which do you think have most successfully bolstered the economy of the region?
A: On reflection this question is really, really difficult.
If you are talking about economic drivers, the Royalties for Regions program (RfR) as a whole has delivered a massive change throughout regional WA and touched every regional community.
Not just the implementation of long-awaited projects and services, but the aspiration of communities has changed.
In the ARID Group, we worked in a lot of regional communities and they all had great ideas but no way of getting there – you can only hold so many chook raffles.
RfR completely changed that and the face of regional WA.
Communities with aspirations started to deliver on those aspirations.
If I think about specific local projects, the National Anzac Centre in Albany, the Busselton Jetty refurbishment, the Albany and Busselton hospitals, Busselton-Margaret River airport, investment into aged care facilities like Waroona – those are just a few projects out of probably a thousand in the South West.
Q: You were The Nationals WA president from 2009- 2013 and during this time the party’s RfR program was developed and rolled out by the party in government.
Which achievement are you most proud of from your tenure as The Nationals WA president?
A: We were a small party back then and we grew on the back of our electoral success.
In my role as president I was managing the growth of the party and all of the new people who came along.
I also instigated the Presidents Advance Program which was about engaging young people into the political process.
One of the other things that occurred during my presidency was the election of Tony Cooke to the seat of Federal seat of O’Connor.
To beat the incumbent Wilson Tuckey – he did a magnificent job of being elected and then carrying the Nationals brand into Canberra.
Prior to the 2008 election we started to move away from this coalition idea to be a much more independent political party.
That was reinforced in the 2008 election when we had the balance of power and didn’t form government for a week because we wanted to ensure that our independence delivered the best outcome for regional people.
When Tony Cooke was elected he basically took that independent stance to Canberra and sat on the cross bench for almost his entire term, purely standing up for regional Western Australian interests.
We were a big part of his support network back in WA.
As the president of the party I went to Canberra with Tony to get the Eastern States to understand that The Nationals WA were a bit different.
That was a great outcome and a really important moment for The Nationals WA.
Q: What qualities do you think are most important for those holding leadership positions?
A: I think you need to recognise the leadership style for the times that are needed.
Sometimes you need to be a decisive leader, sometimes you need to be a consultative leader and sometimes you just have to be willing to listen.
You need the ability to know when you need to be a decisive decision maker or leader as opposed to when it’s time to consolidate and bring people along with you.
Good leadership is also based on being able to forge really effective relationships.
The leader needs a team and that can only be done by establishing good and strong relationships, so you need to be willing to listen, trust people and be consultative.
Q: You played a significant role in developing The Nationals WA President’s Advance Program to help encourage the younger generation entry into politics.
Do you think there tends to be less or more engagement from today’s youth in politics and why do you think this is?
A: The Young Nationals have a really special place in our party.
In our constitution, branch and electoral council delegates have a Young Nationals member and the president of The Nationals WA sits on the State Executive.
It’s an affirmative action for young people which is super valuable and a real credit to our party for doing it that way.
When I look around politics, especially through parliament and ministerial advisers, there’s a lot of very young and talented people.
I think it’s a good thing because they bring a lot of energy and alternative views and when you’re a minister you need a lot of energy because it’s a gruelling job.
I go to a lot of school graduations in this job too and I’m always astounded by the quality of the young people coming out of our school system.
I would say, overall, there is definitely more interest in politics from the younger generation now.
When I grew up my mates and I didn’t care as we didn’t quite realise that politics and government can impact your life, whereas I think the next generation is much more aware of that.
Q: Throughout your career as a politician, what issue have you felt most passionate about?
A: The reason I got into politics was because I have always been people centred.
I want to see good outcomes for people living in the South West and regional WA – I think that’s what’s driven me the most.
People are the centre of politics in my view.
I get out of bed everyday ready to tackle the next job and it’s really motivating when you know the next issue that comes through your electoral office door is going to be about delivering for people.
During my terms I’ve been involved in a lot of different sectors.
I really enjoyed my time as Racing minister.
It’s an important industry for our State, full of hard working people who deserve support.
I was also the architect of the Creative Regions Program arts policy that we implemented at the 2013 election.
I recognised that arts and culture really are the fabric of our society and I think without them our lives would be a lot poorer.
The other thing is I’ve always wanted to help people realise their potential opportunities living in the South West and regional WA.
Q: You served as the minister for Housing; Racing, Gaming and Liquor in the Liberal National government from December 2014 until August 2016 and resigned to create a cabinet vacancy and make way for the return of former party leader Brendon Grylls. What influenced this decision?
A: We were a very small group of 12 MPs and leadership transition in politics is always hard and uncomfortable.
I think it was a little ugly as well – and I know politics is full of that, but the National party generally isn’t.
I thought the best outcome was for me to step back and create an opportunity for Brendon to come back into cabinet.
Terry Redman had the opportunity to retain his Regional Development portfolio, which he was doing a fantastic job in, so I was basically the collateral damage of that leadership transition.
I did it because I wanted to make sure that we preserved our team and our team approach of delivering for regional people.
The decision was based on what’s the easiest way forward really.
Q: What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your political career?
A: The biggest challenge has been learning on the job because there is no guide for being a politician, minister, parliamentary secretary, legislator or a parliamentary representative.
You can’t get a book out and read about what you should be doing next and coming into the job you realise there is a fair bit to it.
The job is very dynamic and you never know what each day is going to bring.
The sheer volume of information you have to deal with on a day-to-day basis is a big challenge.
You have government reports, legislation, committee work and reports, constituent enquiries as they walk in the door and it’s important to do some policy development as well.
Being the only National in the Upper House in the South West – the region I represent goes from Mandurah to Albany and extends to Jerramungup.
You can only be a true representation if you know what’s going on and hear the issues and challenges so I’ve spent a lot of time on the road, as do all regional members, to make sure I get to know the communities I represent, their views of the world and the challenges they face.
I would spend about a third of my time in Perth in parliament committees etc, a third of my time around my Eaton office and home in Bunbury and a third of my time everywhere else.
When I first got elected my youngest kids were 12 and now they’re 23, so they’ve grown up through my political career and me constantly being away from home for extended periods.
But that’s what you sign up for.
Q: How do you think The Nationals WA has evolved since you first became a member of the party in 2005?
A: The biggest issue when I joined in 2005 was the ‘one vote one value’ (an electoral system where each Lower House seat has roughly the same population) which meant the Nationals would disappear.
Going to my first conference I got elected onto the State Executive.
We were a fairly small, ageing demographic and there was an opportunity for me to put my hand up and contribute to the State Executive.
In those days we were very much considered just a farmers’ party, but 2008 and the lead up to that RfR election changed that.
Not only did we survive one vote, one value, but we grew to the surprise of many and we have evolved from an agricultural farmers party to being much more of a community party now.
While agriculture is important and always will be for the State, the party has much more of a regional community focus now and our policies reflect that.
As the party became more successful we attracted a lot more people and we experienced some growing pains.
We had to manage how people came into the party, what their expectations were, how they could contribute etc so the party could continue to evolve.
Q: What are your plans?
A: I have nothing concrete and still have my role to fill until May next year, so I will continue to concentrate on that.
After the election next year I will think about what my next steps are.
I’m keen not to waste my life experiences to this point.
Over the past 12 years I’ve met a lot of people and been involved in a lot of issues and I would like to take that experience into the next phase of my life, whatever role I play.
I am still keen to contribute in some way to WA – what that looks like, I’m not sure yet.
Q: Any words of wisdom for aspiring politicians?
A: The biggest thing is do it for the right reasons.
I have no doubt the vast majority of people that put up their hand to be a politician are doing it for the right reason.
Politicians get a pretty bad wrap, but my experience is that most people are there to get outcomes for the views they hold or the people they represent.
I think another key message is anyone can do it.
I had a humble upbringing and all I really did was put my hand up and say I’d have a go.
It got me into parliament and around the cabinet table for a short while and I was part of that team that delivered RfR which made a massive amount of difference.
No matter who you are, where you live, or what your views are – you can get involved and elected to office.