With an endearing smile and a humble demeanour, the federal member for Aston, Alan Tudge, looks like any other middle-aged male resident residing in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. However, Tudge is a powerful leader in the Aston region and his concerns about the education system and his participation in numerous community projects have gained him a great deal of respect.
Elected to the seat of Aston in August 2010, Tudge is already setting himself apart from other politicians. His ‘hands on’ approach to the community and motivation to reach out to disadvantaged children is often overlooked by the political world.
Born in Pakenham in 1971 has packed a lot into his life – he holds a Law degree and a Masters in Business from Harvard University. The father of two is also a former deputy director of the Cape York Institute – hence his deep concern about the education regime for young indigenous Australia’s living in remote areas.
His place on the House of Representatives standing committee for education and employment is an indication as to why he is so keen to make a difference to the lives of those children.
In early October 2011, Tudge accompanied Liberal Party Leader Tony Abbott to Cape York to provide some reform to their current education system.
‘Indigenous children from Cape York are often unable to read, write, tell the time or even know the days of the week and the reforms are controversial as they represent a radical departure from predominant education orthodoxy,’ Tudge says.
Helping students access the optimal level of education has been a long time interest for the federal MP for Aston.
‘I went to listen and to learn and we wanted to go and spend some real time on the ground to find out what was going on and get a proper sense of those places,’ he says.
Tudge spent three years as a senior advisor to the education minister working to get more funding for school communities and more focus on the core skills of reading.
‘Children are six to seven years behind by the time they reach nine,’ he says. ‘We were only contributing in a very small way but it was providing support for that initiative.’
Helping build a home for an Indigenous family is not a common gesture from your average member of Parliament but Tudge mentions that it is projects like these that he finds the most rewarding.
‘People were taking responsibilities and building it with their own sweat and with materials found locally, like the timber and building their own home. They had enormous pride in that,’ Tudge says.
In addition to his Cape York visit, one of his more rewarding experiences was when he invited a group of indigenous students from central Australia to Sydney in early October 2010 to award them for attendance and performance.
‘They were praised for their efforts and it was my objective to enable students to work in the real economy as adults,’ Trudge says.
His efforts with indigenous education paid off as school attendance has increased from 50% to 80% and enrolment has doubled in two years.
‘I have a number of public forums coming up in my local electorate and I continue to press on indigenous policy and education policy.’
Other than his engagement with education, Tudge does many things around the community of Aston and assists with numerous municipal projects. In early February, a group of year six students from Park Ridge Primary school visited Parliament as part of a school excursion. They were greeted at Parliament by Tudge himself as he believes it is important for students to have exposure to the political system.
‘There is no better way of learning about the political system other than seeing it in action, I mean these kids need to actually see it hands on in real life, in Canberra,’ he says.
Tudge has acknowledged that it’s incredibly important to engage in community projects and after some diligent research it is examined that his main concerns lie within the education system.
In the eyes of locals, Aston could not be led by a more efficient, more caring, genuine leader. He has made some radical changes to his community as well as touching on the delicate topic of mental health issues.
The issue of mental health is an important aspect in modern day society and providing help for suffering Australians has become Tudge’s number one priority.
‘I have elevated the issue of mental health in the community; it brought us to the position of getting a head space centre for Knox,’ he says.
Tudge demonstrates that he is on the ball when it comes to recognising where residents believe action needs to be taken in the community and he often covers issues overlooked by most political leaders.
Although he exhibits a genuine interest in helping others, that is not to say that he hasn’t been subject to attacks and criticisms from members of parliament.
He has been labelled an ‘unprincipled opportunist’ by party insiders and was described as being more concerned about self-promotion rather than showing a passion for Liberal ideas.
However, it is hard to understand why the Liberal Party can question his dedication when he has lead several community programs, shown interest in the students at the local schools and even travelled to remote areas to demonstrate his compassion for indigenous Australian communities and education systems.
‘I will continue to press indigenous policy and education policy’, Trudge said.
Not only does Alan Tudge lead his community, he is part of the community.
Erin Lyons is a journalism student at La Trobe University.
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