By Ingrid Jacobson
PEARCE MHR Christian Porter excelled in academia and had a stellar career in commercial and public law before enjoying a swift rise in State and Federal politics.
He also had an immaculate political pedigree _ his father and grandfather were Liberal power brokers _ earned a reputation as an articulate and passionate debater on the local, national and global stage, and in his younger days even featured as a finalist in glossy magazine, Cleo’s Bachelor of the Year.
But unlike Cleo which recently fell victim to today’s cutthroat media market, the 45-year-old Social Services Minister has not just survived but thrived in the Canberra maelstrom that is modern politics.
He’s done this with a seemingly calm and dignified air that is more in keeping with his role of politician to all of Australia, and suburban family man to his wife, Jennifer and their nine-month-old son, Lachlan, than the young silk that caught Cleo readers’ eyes.
Asked about talk of a swing towards Labor in his Liberal safe seat, Mr Porter, who moved to Yanchep in the summer of 2012 and has presided over the electorate since 2013, sounds unconcerned.
He dismisses the claims as “nonsense”, and attributes them to “someone in Labor who told a journo there might be a swing”.
“For a start, you don’t usually poll in seats like Pearce, which has a margin of 9 ½ per cent,” he said.
“I’ve been campaigning pretty hard and am not feeling a deeply negative view – I think people like Malcolm Turnbull and want to see him voted in.”
He also skeptical about Opposition Leader Bill Shorten recent claims during a trip to WA that a Labor win would give the party a mandate to build the Metronet train service.
His skepticism grows stronger in regard to Labor candidate for Pearce, Thomas French talking up a train line to Yanchep as part of Metronet, along with “the need for a fast train to Lancelin”.
For the former State Treasurer and Attorney General believes the pledges are not yet economically feasible in the big picture of Perth’s public transport.
“I think it’s rather wild and not a credible promise at all.
“And a fast train to Lancelin – are they really suggesting that?
“We see the extension of the railway line north not as a fantasy project but as a value capture project, which means significant input from private land developers.
“We will look for innovative ways to structure the project so it benefits everyone.”
Instead, Mr Porter cites the Coalition’s $499 million road infrastructure grant to WA last year, given, he says, to recognise the state’s dwindling share of GST revenues.
“Residents in Pearce are major beneficiaries of this grant, with $209m put towards the $261m Mitchell Freeway extension from Burns Beach Road to Hester Avenue,” he said.
With his electorate covering 14,000sqm and straddling outer urban suburbs along with small country towns, Mr Porter is well aware of the diversity of issues facing his constituents.
He names the economy as the bridge that brings them together, in particularly the need for jobs.
“The freeway extension, and also the Swan Valley bypass that will activate lot of commercial land around Muchea and therefore generate employment, are significant infrastructure projects,” he said.
“Pearce is a hard electorate to label and people talk about mortgage belt as a description.
“But the common thread is that it contains a lot of good, hard-working people who share common problems, like having enough money to pay the mortgage.
“The other big issue of course is people are hoping for a better future for their kids and as a party, I believe Liberal are better economic leaders.
“A recent report listed Pearce as the 12th fastest economically growing electorate in Australia which bides well for employment opportunities.”
Mr Porter also believes that the beauty of the many different faces of Pearce is another draw that will help its economy grow.
“I love this area and sometimes begrudge times when I’m in Canberra and away from my home and the coast,” he said.
“I marvel when I drive from Yanchep through to Chittering and down to Beverley as it represents some of the most fertile land in Australia.”
In many ways, Yanchep is not so different to Wembley Downs where the politician grew up, attending Hale School, and playing footy with local team, Wembley Downs for 10 years.
His father, Charles “Chilla” Porter was a high jumper and national hero after winning silver at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne.
“Chilla” was also director of The WA Liberal Party, while grandfather, Sir Charles Porter, was a minister in the Queensland government in the seventies.
Politics was obviously a big influence in the young Christian Porter’s life reflected by his time at the University of WA where he earned a Bachelor of Economics and a Bachelor of Arts, with first class honours in politics, before completing a Bachelor of Laws degree.
He followed this up with a Master of Science in political theory at the London School of Economics, graduating top of his class with distinction, before heading back to Perth and a job at Clayton Utz.
He then “worked for the people” at WA’s Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions before entering politics.
It was during his time at the DPP that he met his wife, who now lectures in crown law at Curtin University.
Looking at his life, some may wonder how such an educated man who comes from a background of political royalty and has enjoyed such high flying career success can empathise with a largely mortgage belt electorate.
But he is quick to point out that his upbringing was “very lower-middle income and down-to-earth rather than privileged” and that “my grandfather helped pay for my education”.
“I also had a very long career before politics – I feel like I did my apprenticeship and had experience in the real world as a professional,” he said.
“Major commercial litigation gave me an insight into how business worked.
“When I left commercial law I took a significant pay cut to use my skills in the public arena which gave me much insight on community issues.
“Anyway, I don’t believe elections these days are being fought on the old-fashioned basis of class – it’s aspiration that drives most of us.”