Tanya Plibersek: A day in the life of a federal politician

By Nick Haggarty

Updated September 23, 2017 12:28:04

It’s 6:10am, 10 degrees Celsius, windy and raining in Canberra.

Deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek starts her day as usual with a walk along the edge of Lake Burley Griffin, then on to Parliament House.

An hour later, Ms Plibersek is in her office, being briefed, absorbing notes and scanning newspapers before showering, changing and preparing breakfast.

She rehearses for her first media event. Two staff pepper her with questions, trying to anticipate what journalists waiting at the House of Representatives entrance will ask.

It pays off, as the lines are delivered smoothly minutes later at a job the media and pollies alike refer to as “the doors”.

She repeats the process 90 minutes later in an interview with the ABC’s Greg Jennett.

A tactics meeting with the most senior of her Labor colleagues is next, then Ms Plibersek’s diary is packed with meetings on topics ranging from education, Indigenous rights, water and rail workers, women’s rights and Kiribati, as well as the visiting Croatian President, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovi.

“Today’s a full day, but not that unusual,” Ms Plibersek’s diary manager, Imogen Gambale, says.

It is all juggled with Ms Plibersek’s duties as an MP. When the bells ring, all Lower House members hurry to the chamber to vote or risk facing the wrath of their party whip.

Ms Plibersek finds a few minutes to prepare lunch, chopping a grab bag of vegetables and throwing them in a pressure cooker, making up a recipe as she goes.

She finds the valve for her pressure cooker on top of the fridge.

In the 20 minutes the pressure cooker takes to do its job, Ms Plibersek fits in two meetings before the division bells ring again. The soup sits, still under pressure, waiting to be consumed.

Ms Plibersek casts her vote in the division then delivers a 90-second statement to the House about her opposition to the marriage postal survey, describing constituents Tim and Shawn, who live in Waterloo, having “fag” scratched onto the front of their house.

“There are so many examples like this, and the reason is this absolutely unnecessary $122 million survey,” she told Parliament.

Back in her office, Ms Plibersek calls out to unseen staff: “Does anyone want some soup? Bronwyn — you need to have some soup,” addressing her chief of staff Bronwyn Taylor.

At 2:00pm it is the rowdiest hour of the day: Question Time.

Ms Plibersek questions Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop, taunting her over a spat with New Zealand sparked by the discovery Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce is a Kiwi citizen and possibly ineligible for Parliament.

There’s no love lost between Ms Plibersek and Ms Bishop, and the Foreign Minister goes on the attack, saying Ms Plibersek, “has no credibility whatsoever”, provoking an outburst from Ms Plibersek that earned her a warning from the Speaker that she could be ejected from the chamber.

It is a raucous Question Time and Ms Plibersek receives a second warning from the Speaker.

Her Question Time ended early, with a ruling from Speaker Tony Smith: “The Member for Sydney has been warned three times. She can leave under 94(a).”

Having been ejected early, Ms Plibersek finds a few minutes she wouldn’t otherwise have had and takes the chance to phone her daughter Anna.

“Can I talk to you in a minute?” Anna asks. Like all Year 11 students, she’s pretty busy.

“Sure,” Ms Plibersek replies. Several hours later, she calls and offers some maternal advice about political strategy as Anna is considering a run for her school’s student representative council.

In the early evening, she drops in to a farewell drinks party in the press gallery for Channel Nine veteran Laurie Oakes.

And on the way back to the office, Ms Plibersek stops by an ABC event featuring two of the organisation’s biggest stars.

By 7:50pm she’s in the nearby suburb of Woden to deliver the annual Emily’s List Oration. Her 30-minute speech touches on topics like abortion and reproductive health, followed by questions from the floor.

At 9:30pm, after Ms Plibersek has worked through the line of women wanting to chat and take selfies, a car arrives to take her to dinner with friends, although she’s still making work calls.

Tomorrow we follow Josh Frydenberg for a look into the life of a government minister.

Topics: government-and-politics, federal-parliament, people, political-parties, canberra-2600

First posted September 23, 2017 08:21:28