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Deborah O’Neill: Gosford’s education crusader

Member for Robertson Deborah O'Neill's passion for education and job security make her a popular figure on the Central Coast, writes Backbench Insiders’ Kevin Cheong

Deborah O’Neill juggles three kids and runs a small business, but she considers her role in parliament as her true privilege.

Hailing from the western suburbs of Sydney, O’Neill’s journey from school teacher to federal member has been driven by her core belief in community and education.

Today, as the Member for Robertson, O’Neill rests on these values to drive herself, and more importantly, her electorate.

O’Neill moved to the Central Coast three decades ago with her husband, Chris. It took a little adjusting when she was elected to parliament, but she insists her family are managing…just.

‘It’s like anyone who is juggling. Every now and then you are bound to drop the ball. I think I manage reasonably well, but Grandma has had to come to the rescue a few times!’

Emphasising the importance of keeping her electorate satisfied, she doesn’t complicate her work too much – a few key values, a lot of passion, a bit of love and about 30 years of local knowledge. Having lived in Gosford and raised a family in the area, her understanding of Robertson and its needs is second to none.

At the top of her list is education. O’Neill trained as a teacher, and has taught at both secondary and tertiary levels. This has given her an intrinsic understanding of the benefits associated with a good education: whether it be primary, secondary, tertiary or TAFE.

‘As we move to a clean energy future and a more sophisticated economy, we want to have really high quality jobs and people who can really use their skills to the best of their abilities. As a mother, as an educator and as a politician, I understand that it is vital for our future, individually and as a community,’ she said.

O’Neill looks forward to the future of her electorate, with the installation of the National Broadband Network (NBN) just around the corner. She is proud that: ‘This regional area will both be ahead of Sydney and Newcastle, and that gives us an incredible opportunity to bring jobs – high paying and high quality jobs which will be helping the international economy right from the heart of Gosford.’

To add to this, her new position as the Chair of the Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services means she will be assisting Australians with handling finances for retirement. O’Neill’s passion for bettering her community is illustrated through her new role, as she strives for a saving system which aids retirees ‘through greater efficiency and lower fees’.

‘We’re overseeing the distribution of superannuation, as we make sure we look after the best interests of Australians financially. I am particularly interested in financial literacy. Sometimes it’s a bit intimidating with all the big words and the decision making which many people are not confident about. By increasing financial literacy I hope to give people the confidence to manage their money and retirement funds.’

Her new position of taking care and putting away superannuation will also aid to her dedication to fund further infrastructure in Gosford and all over Australia, including further educational and job infrastructure. O’Neill sees creating more opportunities for jobs for the residents of Gosford as paramount for the remainder of her term.

‘The biggest thing that Labor believes in is jobs. You can’t have anything more clear than when we went through the Global Financial Crisis. If Tony Abbott had his way, there would be money in the bank and a whole lot of unemployed people. Apprentices kept their apprenticeships because we made sure the construction sector kept moving. That is the kind of thing I believe in – keeping people in work is a critical part of the government’s whole ideal and make sure we have the best outcome for the ordinary people in the seat of Robertson.’

O’Neill and her husband own a small landscaping business in the area. And she shares her dedication to employment and supporting small businesses with her husband Chris: ‘He really understands young people, and he knows that all they really need is a bit of a go to get them going, a bit of courage and some responsibility to show them how things are done. He’s worked with a lot of young kids over the years.’

The connection to her community still resinates in all areas, including sport. A supporter of the A-League, O’Neill will be bleeding blue and gold as her beloved Central Coast Mariners head for the premiership title.

‘Oh look I’ve been to many of the games already this season and I hope that I will be able to attend that one as well. I will be down there in my blue and gold on and shouting as loud as anyone in the crowd in the hope they’ll bring it home. They are a great team and they have incredible community support,’ she said.

Two years into her term, O’Neill insists there is much more to come for the electorate of Robertson. Her love and passion for the community has been for all to see, no matter how big the occasion – whether it be saving superannuation or the Kariong library. Having swung the support back towards Labor, it would seem that the public appreciates the work of a true community leader.

Kevin Cheong 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.

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