Kate Chaney was one of half a dozen new “teal” MPs elected to parliament last year, winning the previously solid Liberal seat of Curtin in Western Australia.
“It’s been a fascinating and steep learning curve over the last eight months,” Chaney tells the podcast. “As a crossbencher, you really have to think very carefully about how you vote on every piece of legislation and try as much as possible to connect with community and ensure that those votes are informed by community.”
Against the background of the stoush between fellow teal Monique Ryan and a staffer over long hours, Chaney says the workload is massive. “It’s definitely challenging trying to get across all of the legislation with only one personal staff member [working on legislation]. I do think that challenge is quite different to the work of a backbencher in a party. I have been very lucky to find [staff] who are passionately engaged and have experience that has made them very well-suited for the job while still bringing a freshness to it.”
Being a member from distant WA presents its distinct challenges. “My parliamentary and policy adviser has three young kids, and she is definitely experiencing those challenges of being a working mother. But with a background in DFAT she has experience and is managing to prioritise things.
"That’s the big challenge – you inevitably have to be prioritising regularly and saying which are the things that we really need to get done.”
Chaney is a strong advocate for an Indigenous Voice to parliament, and will be campaigning for a Yes vote. “I’ve worked in Aboriginal affairs at Wesfarmers when it was the largest private sector employer in the country […] and also with Noel Pearson up in Cape York a long time ago. From that I’ve really learned that listening and understanding has to be a precondition to finding solutions, and I’ve learnt some of that the hard way by not doing it.
"We can’t ignore the need for a long term fundamental change to the way we approach these issues, which needs to be based on listening. Now, First Nations people don’t have all the answers either, but we’re more likely to be able to find them if it’s based on listening to the people who are affected by policy.”
Integrity is one of Chaney’s main focuses in Canberra. This week she blasted communications minister Michelle Rowland about her acceptance of pre-election support from Sportsbet. Chaney wants better regulation on which companies can donate to political parties, and how the information is shared with the public.
“We have real problems when we’ve got gambling companies supporting the people who are regulating them. Between Sportsbet, Tabcorp and Star combined, they donated $700,000 to the major parties in the last 12 months.”
What other areas would she target, in banning certain donations?
“Well, I would like to see a community discussion of that. People will draw the line in different spots. But tobacco, alcohol, gambling – one day it might be fossil fuels, too.”