For many new politicians Canberra is a lonely experience, with no connection to anything outside the cloistered and frantic place that is Parliament House. Not so for new senator Perin Davey. For her, it’s a kind of homecoming, in more ways than one.
Senator Davey grew up in Canberra, moving here with her family when her father worked as an ABC journalist, reporting from Old Parliament House.
Davey, who went to Curtin primary and Deakin high, is her father’s daughter, following him first into journalism, second into the National Party, and third into Parliament, albeit to sit in the chamber rather than the press gallery.
Her father, Paul Davey, was federal director of the Nationals during the “Joh for Canberra” campaign that split the conservatives and has more recently published a book on the saga. Perin was in her mid-teens during that highly divisive time.
But she thought initially to be a journalist, doing a cadetship in Mudgee, before heading overseas. She worked for three years cooking for wilderness safaris in Botswana (not the hunting kind), has also been an army reservist, and worked as a lobbyist.
She met her husband, John Dickie, at the Tamworth country music festival. He was a farmer’s son, but owning their own farm has so far proved elusive – and it is corporate agriculture that allows him to work on the land. The couple lived initially in Queensland and now in Conargo, where her husband manages irrigation and cropping on a 70,000-hectare property. The pair have two daughters, aged 11 and 13, and before her Senate bid she worked in water policy.
While she was always drawn to the country, her two brothers have stuck with city life, one still in Canberra and the other in Sydney. Her parents now live in Sydney but Senator Pavey still has an investment unit in Canberra.
What’s life like out there, in a tiny community six and a half hours’ drive from Canberra? Dry, she responds, and there’s a sense of frustration in regional communities, which feel forgotten.
But also lovely. The community is close and her children are safe. They can get the bus home from school and play outside without their parents having to worry.
“It’s really enjoyable. They’ve got the dog and the cats and they’re safe. It’s a really comfortable place to live,” Senator Davey said.
The public perception of the National Party, what the outsiders think we are and what we actually are, are not necessarily 100 per cent aligned.Perin Davey
Yes, there are issues with internet and mobile phones connectivity and access to health. But “regional NSW has so much to offer and one of the biggest problems we’ve got is combating the perception that it’s all disadvantage”.
Senator Davey also combats perceptions about the National Party.
“The public perception of the National Party, what the outsiders think we are and what we actually are, are not necessarily 100 per cent aligned,” she says.
“When you look at our party room now, gone are the days where we’re middle-aged white farmers. Yes, we all still wear Akubras when we go out but that’s because it’s really bright and we don’t want to tear up when the cameras come out. And there is a very broad church …
“This is what I really do like about the Nationals – we can cross the floor any time we want.”
Asked where she sits on liberal-conservative spectrum on social issues, Senator Davey struggles to answer. She voted for same-sex marriage; some of her Nationals’ colleagues led the charge against. She believes in “hard work, an honest day’s wages”, but is essentially a pragmatist, she says.
Men still dominate the Nationals party room overall, but not the Senate. Five of the six Nationals senators are female.
She replaces John “Wacka” Williams. She is the only National Party senator for NSW, but also, she says, the only NSW senator from any party who doesn’t live in a city. That leaves her carrying the country load in the upper house.
“The responsibility basically falls on my shoulders west of the Great Divide.”