In 2017, we visited two Australian Members of Parliament and spent roughly a week each with each of them in their electorates learning about how they go about representing their constituents.
Linda Burney is the Labour MP for the electorate of Barton. Burney was first elected to the Australian House of Representatives in the 2016 federal election, but was previously a long-time Labour member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly where she served as both interim party leader and deputy leader. Upon winning the seat of Canterbury in the 2003 NSW election, Burney became the first Aboriginal person to serve in the NWS Legislative Assembly. And, upon winning Barton in the 2016 federal election, Burney became the first Indigenous woman to be elected to the Australian House of Representatives.
Barton is a dense urban, highly diverse division in Sydney. The electorate has been held by both Labour and Liberal members, but is now classified as relatively safe for Labour and Burney.
Warren Entsch is a veteran MP, having sat as the MP for the electorate of Leichhardt from 1996 to 2007 and again since the 2010 federal election. Entsch ran as a candidate for the Liberal Party of Australia prior to 2008 when the Liberal National Party of Queensland (LNP) was formed; he has since run under the LNP banner but continues to caucus in Canberra with the Liberals. While never a cabinet minister, Entsch served as a parliamentary secretary prior to his brief departure from politics in the 2007 federal election and as chief opposition whip under leader Tony Abbott from 2010 to 2013. Outside of Leichhardt, Entsch is known as an ardent supporter of same-sex marriage and other LGBT causes, causes he took up early in his career beginning in 2004 and which culminated his campaigning on the “Yes” side in the 2017 Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey, which saw a decisive “Yes” result. Entsch worked at various occupations in north Queensland prior to entering politics: he was a farmer; a crocodile and wild bull hunter; a welder; real estate agent; and, a handyman.
Leichhardt is in the far north of Queensland, a rural division that is largely uninhabited besides Indigenous communities throughout and the urban and agricultural centre of Cairns in the southeast of the seat. Agriculture—including sugar cane, banana and mango plantations—is an important source of economic activity, as increasingly is tourism. While Leichhardt was traditionally a safe Labour seat, it became a marginal seat in the 1980s and acted as a bellwether. Since 1996, Entsch has won the electorate with respectable but not crushing margins. Entsch is well known locally and his staff attribute his success to a personal rather than a party vote.