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Russell Matheson: Born to lead

Some people are born leaders and Liberal MP Russell Matheson is one of them, writes Backbench Insiders’ Hannah Rabe.

A well-known saying states that leaders are born, not made, and leadership is certainly not something that anyone can master. Russell Matheson, the Liberal MP for Macarthur, is a person born to lead.

Photo: APH

Matheson didn’t play football without captaining the team. He didn’t join the police force without becoming sergeant. He didn’t work for city council without becoming the mayor. Matheson, it seems, is predisposed to lead in whatever situation he finds himself.

Matheson has now chosen to lead the seat of Macarthur, about 50km south-west of Sydney, a region with which he has a long history.

Growing up, Matheson had a fairly average childhood, until he took up football – the VFL/AFL variety ­– and became anything but average. His courage and leadership on the field soon saw him labeled as the New South Wales equivalent of AFL great Leigh Matthews.

As captain-coach of the Campbelltown Monarch Blues, Matheson lead the team to four consecutive premierships, and became a legend in the community. Now, at the age of 53, Matheson has maintained his links with football, being a club patron of local club Camden Cats.

President of the club and former teammate, James Glynn, says the club sees Matheson as its ‘spiritual leader’. Glynn says that Matheson’s achievements on and off the field have made him a role model for his electorate and a ‘source of inspiration for the club’.

‘He’s a high profile member of the community and, more importantly for us, he’s a high profile name in the AFL community,’ says Glynn.

Matheson’s profile in the community was not entirely due to football. In the midst of his playing career, encouraged by his best mate, Matheson joined the NSW police force in 1985. After a few years, he attained the rank of sergeant. Naturally.

While Matheson says progressing to this role was the highlight of his career in the police force, he admits that, as with any leadership role, it was not all smooth sailing.

‘The general public don’t see some of the most traumatic and devastating situations that those who work in the emergency services see on a daily basis,’ says Matheson. ‘It is not an easy job to do.’

When he retired from football, Matheson ran for council and was elected as council member for Campbelltown City Council in 1992. Within two years Matheson became mayor, a position he has held, on and off, on five occasions.

So what makes Matheson seek leadership roles in everything that he does?

Matheson was an ‘army child’, and growing up surrounded by leaders and those who proudly served their community inspired Matheson to do the same. He was born into a community where leadership was respected and constantly displayed, and he absorbed that culture deeply. ‘Everything we do in life shapes who we are,’ says Matheson.

While there were a lot of factors that has contributed to him being in parliament, Matheson says it has all happened fluidly. His success in the football community contributed to his success in the local council. And by the time Matheson ran for Macarthur in 2010, he had already proven himself as a leader of his community, and won the election with a margin of 3 per cent.

‘I think the people of Macarthur recognise and appreciate politicians who have a history and strong background serving their community,’ he says.

Russell Matheson will hope his long history in Macarthur will see him lead the community for many years to come.


Hannah Rabe 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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