Sometimes we need to fail if we are to succeed. This is certainly the case with forty-five year old backbench Liberal MP, Luke Simpkins.
After finishing a fifteen year career in the army, Simpkins decided he wanted to turn his hand to politics. ‘I’ve always approached things with a point of view of public service,’ he says, as he explains his career change.
He continues: ‘When I was with the Federal Police, I wanted to serve the country. When I was with the army, I wanted to serve the country, and now in politics I want to serve my community.’
The plan didn’t initially go to script. At the 2004 Federal election, Simpkins ran for the seat of Cowan, a wealthy area in Perth’s mid-northern suburbs. Despite taking 4.7 per cent off Labor’s margin, he still lost to popular Labor MP Graham Edwards. However, the experience taught Simpkins a valuable lesson.
‘I had to work harder. Knock on more doors and obviously try to be better resourced for the next time around,’ he says.
Simpkins knocked on an estimated 14,000 doors in the 2007 election campaign, with some Cowan residents complaining about how he bombarded them with campaign letters. Nevertheless, Simpkins became one of only two Liberal candidates to take a seat from Labor at the election. He acknowledges that he was proud of his success at being elected, yet he says that the overall result of the election was ‘a little bit on the depressing side’, given the ALP’s comprehensive victory and the ramifications that the defeat had on the Coalition.
Simpkins believes that it was through his commitment to local issues, such as crime and anti-social behaviour, that led to him being elected.
‘A lot of people that I met in the 2004 and 2007 election campaigns were frustrated. They felt that if you reported something, nothing would ever happen,’ he says.
Simpkins adds: ‘I think more and more people are realising now, that through things like my Cowan Community Watch Program, that they do have power and they should become involved in helping out the police force sort them out.’
Aside from crime and anti-social behaviour, Simpkins is also committed to providing opportunities for residents in Cowan, particularly in education for young people.
‘The things that I’ve always wanted to pursue are to make sure that there are opportunities, the best opportunities, for the people living in the electorate of Cowan, and to try to encourage young people to stay in school and do their best in school,’ he says.
‘They will get the best opportunities that are available. I don’t think Australia is the lucky country, I think it’s the land of opportunity, where if you want to work hard you can achieve great things.’
In his five years in Parliament, Simpkins has also used his time in both the Australian Federal Police and Australian Military Police to weigh into defence issues. This was particularly the case in early 2010, where he publicly supported the use of sleep deprivation as a means of extracting intelligence.
‘Certainly in my time in the Army, there was lots of sleep deprivation going on and it was my view that it never did me any harm. When you see people who are deprived of sleep, it’s one of the ways that people break down and give away information very quickly,’ he explains.
Another military issue that has Simpkins’ support is the ongoing war in Afghanistan. While the war is in its tenth year, Simpkins argues it is necessary to prevent Afghanistan from returning to a base for terrorists.
‘To allow Afghanistan to go back to a terrorist base for a combination of Al Qaeda and the Taliban is not something we want for the world. Everybody wants progress, there’s no doubt it. More and more of the provinces of Afghanistan are being handed over to their own security forces, and I have faith that they will get the job done and that they will be up to the task,’ he said.
On domestic issues, Simpkins has been particularly critical of the ALP’s mining tax, which was passed by the Senate this month. He was even booted out of Parliament for his response to a comment Wayne Swan made when the tax was being debated. Simpkins main issue with the tax is the Gillard Government’s model for it.
He said: ‘Basically with this mining tax, with the spending measures associated with it, we’re going to be somewhere between $4-6 billion in the red, so unfortunately the government can’t even run a tax properly. The tax is designed to take money out of Western Australian and Queensland, but particularly Western Australia. I think something like 60 per cent of the money is going to come out of Western Australia and any money that comes back is going to be a fraction of that.’
The mining tax is one of the things that the Liberal Party promises to abolish in the lead up to the 2013 Federal election, along with the carbon tax, both of which Simpkins believes are important for people in his electorate.
And while the polls, political reporters and the bookies are all pointing to a Coalition victory at the next election, Simpkins is just focusing on the work he has to do to hold his seat.
‘I’m not someone that spends a lot of time worrying about opinion polls or that kind of stuff. I guess it’s somewhat encouraging what we’ve seen in Queensland, but really it is more door knocking, more speaking to the people in the streets of Cowan, that’s my plan for the election. I won’t be putting my feet up on the desk.’
To view profiles of some of the other backbenchers as part of upstart’s Backbench Insiders project, click here.