There’s something about politics that seems to put off the younger generations. However, there are a few members of parliament out there attempting to give Australian politics a new lease on life by involving Australia’s young people in the political debate.
Dr. Andrew Laming is a new breed of politician. He is the semi-rockstar Liberal Member for Bowman. A bit of a
Bear Grylls of backbench politics, Laming is the type of guy that would make anyone feel like an underachiever.
The son of a former member of parliament, Laming has racked up an astounding number of degrees, including a degree in medicine and a Master of Public Administration from Harvard.
An MP since 2004, Laming led an interesting life pre-politics volunteering in several exotic locations including East Timor, Madagascar and the remote Australian outback.
After a narrow loss to Con Sciacca for the seat of Bowman in 2001, Laming came back in 2004 to win the seat, which he still holds today.
One of the factors attributed to Laming’s campaign success is his prolific use of social media.
‘It’s obviously now the dominant social medium of communication for young people. And it serves well to communicate with people in the mode of their choice,’ says Laming.
Laming operates the largest electorate based Facebook profile in Australia, one private profile, open only to members of his electorate, as well as a public or fan page open to all.
Not all politicians are convinced about the importance of hopping on the social media bandwagon. Labor Party State Secretary Anthony Chisholm is skeptical about the role of social media and other technology based campaign aids in Laming’s landslide win in the 2007 election. He put the Liberal win down to money, telling the Wynnum Herald: ‘In Bowman we were out-spent six or seven to one.’
Laming, however, stands by the importance of social media: ‘I will always offer my constituents the chance to remain in touch by any number of communications systems.’
His use of social media isn’t the only campaign method that causes Andrew Laming to stand out in the political crowd. In 2011, Laming raffled off ‘one night getaways’ to his holiday house Mooloolaba in order to encourage voters to speak up in the fight against the Gillard government’s controversial Carbon Tax.
Although not the only MP to have offered prizes for voter involvement, it is definitely still a novel approach to get every day Australians involved in the climate change debate. Laming described the gimmick as no different to giving away tea and biscuits at a function.
It is not surprising that Laming is willing to use such unconventional methods to get people involved in issues that he is passionate about. Laming spent most of his pre-political career getting deeply involved in a number of causes, both abroad and at home.
Some of Laming’s more memorable charitable works include landmine clearing in Afghanistan, a deployment with a school for the blind in Madagascar and extensive work on Indigenous health here in Australia. He also completed ophthalmological public health research in Lajamanu in the Northern Territory.
Laming urges ordinary Australians to get involved with the Indigenous community, saying ‘most people don’t have a direct connection to Aboriginal Australia. One of the challenges of government is to close that divide and encourage people to develop connections and cultivate them. This makes it easier to get involved in Aboriginal issues’.
He says one of his objectives as an MP is to make it easier for professional people to volunteer within indigenous communities. He cites indigenous-led charity Indigenous Community Volunteers as a great way for people to get involved.
Once Laming’s career turned to government he did not abandon his goals of improving health for Indigenous Australians, working as a medical policy advisor to then Health Minister Kay Patterson in 2002. After his election to parliament, Laming was appointed to the UNESCO National Commission in 2005.
And since 2010 Laming has been the Coalition spokesperson for Indigenous Health and Regional Health Services and Eye Health.
Although he has displayed a huge interest in medicine and health, Laming was not always sure that he wanted to be a doctor, or even go into politics.
‘I applied to do medicine when I was very young, before the age of sixteen, seventeen,’ recalls Laming. ‘My decision was based on the idea of it being a flexible degree. If I wanted to change my mind it was easy to do something different.’
It wasn’t until Laming completed postgraduate study at the Kennedy School of Government, located in Boston, USA, that he actually considered going into politics and following in his father’s footsteps.
Although his use of social media in political campaigns seems to have been effective, he would love to see some research on the topic.
‘I’m conscious it’s not about the number of friends on a profile. It’s whether that engagement actually leads to any changes in behaviour and I think we should maybe do some research on that.’
Ellen Hickman is a student at La Trobe University.
To view profiles of some of the other backbenchers as part of upstart’s Backbench Insiders project, click here.