BRIDGET McKenzie is thriving on the “huge leap” she took into the Australian Senate.
She’s been there a year now as the only National Party representative for Victoria.
“It’s the most amazing privilege to do this job. I have been given that responsibility and I take it very seriously. I’m quite diligent.”
She said the scope of her work is “so broad”, embracing the whole state and the issues are myriad.
She’s surprised at how separate the House of Representatives and Senate are and has only once questioned herself for pursuing a life in politics.
“During the first week, I thought: is this such a good decision? But it was only fleeting, everyone goes through that.”
It didn’t take long to ditch the high heels she likes to wear.
“During the first week three of us, the ‘new girls’, were halfway through an interview on Triple J.
“The red lights went and the buzzing (of the Senate bells) started.
“We looked at each other and in our heels, we were teeter tottering down two flights of stairs.
“Then I heard a well-seasoned male voice behind us saying: ‘don’t you love the fear in a new senator’s run!?’.”
Having worked out it takes one minute 25 to get from her office to the senate chamber, she no longer runs – but the heels are lower, just in case.
Bridget has met many interesting people during the year, including “the triumvirate” of US President Barack Obama, Queen Elizabeth and Princess Mary of Denmark.
“I’m a strong constitutional monarchist. The Queen was a shimmering ball of silver and as I was introduced to her I was bobbing like a cork!
“I’ve been hanging around with Peter Nixon and Tim Fischer (CORRECT) (National Party luminaries) and I’ve met some amazing people.”
These have included struggling irrigators who have impressed Bridget with their stories of resilience and those who gave evidence to the forced adoption inquiry in which she became involved.
“I’m constantly inspired by how people keep going and contributing.”
Recently, the Senator was in Castlemaine where, she said, the ageing parents of disabled children have worked “so hard” to build a care facility.
“A local farming family donated five acres, the local Lions put $240,000 into the building. To see that happening; I’m on a grassy knoll thinking, this is what it’s about.
“I flew over the floods in the Goulburn Valley and spoke to a peach grower who, crop gone, didn’t know if he was Arthur or Martha, but he was pragmatic and going on. When you talk to average, normal people, amazing things happen all the time, particularly in country communities.
“It is humbling and poignant. That’s why it’s so important to get out and travel.”
And the travelling takes Bridget out of the rarefied and insular atmosphere of the parliament.
That, and her family and friends, keep her grounded.
She cherishes the concentrated bursts of time she has with her family.
She’s been to all the public consultations in Victoria relating to the Murray Darling Basin Plan and has so far met with two thirds of Victoria’s councils to gain an overview of their particular issues.
There is a lot of “sitting down and eating” being a Senator and to counteract that, Bridget has “joined the gym group to keep myself tidy”.
She has become more passionate about the importance of civics education and has a despatch box painted silver like a treasure chest for classroom use.
It contains a speaker’s gown, black rod and mace and pretend bills so students can role play.
“We’re all part of the political process; we’re all in this together and all have rights and responsibilities.”
There have been 17 sitting weeks during the year and while senators are passionate with their views, Bridget has found a mutual respect that is not obvious in the Lower House.
She serves on a variety of senate committees, including community affairs, education, employment and workplace relations and the parliamentary library.
“I want to make a positive contribution on behalf of my communities.”
There’s an ever-ready spectre of an election and Bridget thinks Australians are sick of the politicking that is going on at the federal level.
“I think they feel betrayed on both sides. There is a real sense of ‘give us an election and we’ll make the decision’.
“The onus is on all of us to lift the bar. People aren’t stupid.”