Darren Chester: still running for Gippsland

17 July 2012

Written by: Emil Jeyaratnam

Darren Chester isn’t afraid of getting his hands dirty in order to support the community. The Nationals MP for Gippsland, in Victoria’s east, doesn’t mind donning Lycra for a good cause either.

Having ridden alongside Tony Abbott for the annual Pollie Pedal, Chester has shown his support for many local fundraising events such as Run

Photo: APH

for Your Life to support the Latrobe Regional Hospital and the Ride for Mental Health.

‘Darren is very compassionate and supportive of any event in the Gippsland area. He likes to be involved in all community activities’, says Lance Hunt, a local cyclist who participated in the 900km Ride for Mental Health.

The 45-year-old Chester won the Gippsland seat in a by-election in 2008 by a margin of 5.51 per cent.

Chester had big shoes to fill following the resignation of fellow Nationals member Peter McGauran after 25 years in office. But his hands-on approach in the community has been hugely popular and he was re-elected in 2010 with an impressive margin of 11.45 per cent.

Chester, who has a background in journalism, says he never thought he’d make the transition to politics – it was a ‘gradual process’ and totally unplanned.

‘If you had of asked me when I was leaving school if I’d ever end up in politics, I would have said you’re crazy,’ says Chester.

Chester’s twelve-year career in journalism involved writing speeches and press releases for members of parliament. And his time as Chief of Staff for Nationals MP Peter Ryan in 2008 made him increasingly aware of the issues affecting regional communities. Chester says this ignited a passion to no longer ‘put up and shut up’. So he chose to get involved and give locals a ‘fair go’ – a position supported by his family.

It was his family that taught him ‘more than anything else that you need to make a contribution to the community. There’s no free ride,’ says Chester. ‘Everyone has the skills and capacity to make Gippsland or Australia a better place and they should make their contribution in the small way that they can.’

Though everyone may have the capacity to make a contribution, Gippsland has been, and continues to be, burdened by high unemployment rates. Times have been tough. And some believe the numbers will increase with the introduction of the carbon tax.

In March this year, Chester was kicked out of parliament for questioning the government’s policy regarding power stations, which he believes will see workers in the Latrobe Valley lose their jobs. Unapologetic for his actions, Chester holds firm about the need to protect Gippsland jobs and warns that the global economic crisis will play out on Australia more heavily.

Unemployment is ‘one of the biggest issues we’re going to face over the next 10 years,’ says Chester. ‘It is one of the reasons I’m opposed to the carbon tax and can’t understand why we would do anything to make our businesses less competitive when they’re competing against other nations throughout the world that don’t have a carbon tax.’

His stance against the carbon tax has been heavy criticised by the Greens, who Chester feels will shut down two of Gippsland’s most valuable industries – brown coal and timber.

‘I find it quite ridiculous that the government of the day has allowed itself to be hijacked by the Greens agenda when it comes to brown coal,’ says Chester.

The Gippsland region has enough brown coal to power Victoria for a very long time and currently provides over 85 per cent of Victoria’s energy. According to the Nationals, designing brown coal power stations using modern technology would have less environmental impact and create more jobs.

‘It is not possible to provide reliable base load energy supply using wind turbines. A lot of what the Greens are saying about renewable energy is completely untrue,’ warns Chester.

But Jill Redwood, the Greens representative for environment in East Gippsland, says the MP is ‘backing a dying industry here that’s undermining a growing industry.’ Redwood also says logging and the burning of native forests for electricity are supported ‘to the hilt’ by Chester, ‘while tourism is left to find its own way.’

‘The suggestion that I support “logging to the hilt” is a juvenile comment. I support a sustainable hardwood timber industry using the rotation system which has been proven over many years to be successful in regional communities,’ refutes Chester.

‘I find it laughable that anyone from the Greens can be critical of me and my role in tourism’ says Chester, who has served as a volunteer president for the business and tourism association for Gippsland.

And it is Chester’s strong involvement in the community that has won him so many admirers. When he isn’t in parliament he can be seen supporting his kids down at local sporting events. He says attending his sons’ Auskick games and becoming a water safety officer is ‘one of the most satisfying things’ to do on a weekend.

‘Darren does a great job for the community,’  says East Gippsland Deputy Mayor Marianne Pelz. ‘He’s a family guy out there competing in events with kids. He does surf lifesaving and competes in the East Gippsland triathlon every year.’ She also applauds Chester’s passion for Gippsland and his advocacy of its industries.

Chester’s love of the Gippsland region and his fight for its industries look set to continue for some time yet with his popularity still high. And he seems particularly determined to take on the Greens come next election.

‘I think the Greens one day will come to the realisation that people want to actually have jobs and have a meaningful standard of living,’ says Chester.

‘They won’t get that if they keep buying the Greens’ ideology.’

Emily Gook is a student at La Trobe University. You can follow her on twitter: @EmilyGook

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