WHEN things went haywire for former WA One Nation turned independent Senator Rod Culleton in Canberra, it flicked the switch on a rare political opportunity for his knock-about brother-in-law Peter Georgiou.
Having run second on the WA One Nation ticket at last year’s federal election, the electrical contractor from Perth was elected earlier this year in a special recount of the WA Senate votes to replace Mr Culleton who had been disqualified by a decision of the Court of Disputed Returns, relating to rules of election eligibility.
But as described by his Senate predecessor and family member by law, Senator Georgiou is his own man - can also cook a great souvlaki - and has now returned the vote to Pauline Hanson’s One Nation (PHON) to restore a four vote block to the party, on the highly influential Senate crossbench.
Here - in one of his first full and frank interviews since coming to Canberra - Senator Georgiou talks to Fairfax Agricultural Media about his steep political learning curve, meeting Malcolm Turnbull for the first time and his political aspirations in the Senate on policy areas like pushing the banks on issues like farm debt which Mr Culleton had vigorously pursued before his career was terminated.
Let’s cut to the chase to start with the obvious questions, you’re here replacing Rod Culleton, your brother in law – how do you feel about that?
“We both ran on the ticket during the elections and were hoping One Nation would win two seats in W.A. obviously we all know what’s happened since. The reality is I’m now the One Nation Senator for WA and I’m proud to represent the people of WA. It’s a huge honour.”
Why have you decided to stay with One Nation rather than remain an independent Senator as was Rod’s final position?
“First of all, I like many voters have been disillusioned by the major political parties over the years. Secondly voters didn’t vote for me or Mr Culleton they voted for One Nation so that seat should always be a One Nation seat.”
Rod campaigned hard on banking issues concerning farm debt, as it was related to his personal circumstances – what’s your view on that policy issue and thoughts about agriculture more generally in WA and nationally?
“I will be continuing the push on banking issues and holding the banks accountable. It’s a tough slog having to carve a living off the land. That’s the first point. Secondly agriculture is a key industry for our state and we need to protect it and foster it where we can. I’ve toured around country WA from time to time, and we tend to forget the important impact rural and regional Australia has on the rest of the nation.”
Do you plan to maintain any of Rod’s policy demands, like demanding a banking royal commission to examine farm debt and will he work for you?
“I’m continuing to push for a Royal Commission into the banking sector as I have had many constituents across the state and the nation contact me regarding the banking industry's systemic approach to getting rid of customers, leaving many people either struggling or in financial ruin. It’s a mess and it needs to be fixed. Questions need to be answered.”
Why did you decide to go into politics and what will be your style and attitude?
“I decided to go into politics because I would like to make honest changes that benefit every Australian and not being a career politician I have a different outlook on issues which affect ordinary hard working Australians.”
Tell me a bit about your background and some recent history and how you think those experiences will guide you, in making decisions, in this new world of politics?
“Well as I said I’m not a career politician. I’m a small business owner - electrical contractor - who’s been privileged to serve the people of WA. I feel I can bring a real life experience to the Parliament. Someone who has a blue collar grit who can resonate and identify with the average working Australian.”
What are your early impressions of Canberra and Parliament House, and experiences like meeting the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull?
“There’s no doubt this is a learning curve for me, it’s a jump from what I’ve been doing for the last 20 years. My early impressions are that this is a role that can’t be taken lightly and needs to be fulfilled to the outmost comprising the precious elements of integrity and honour. Meeting the PM was an honour but it was a very quick meet and greet. It was cut short because I was required in the chamber.”
What do you hope to achieve while you’re here – will it be enough to get you re-elected in 2019?
“I want a Royal Commission into the banks-particularly the Bankwest takeover by CBA. The Small Business Ombudsman is looking into this but it needs to go further. Secondly I want to make sure there's a better GST deal for WA. Right now we're getting ripped off- there's no nice way of saying it. In fact there is no need for horizontal fiscal equalisation to be used. It's a flawed process and there is no legal requirement for the Government to be using it. Ultimately we are charged with administering laws and finances for the people. I am part of a system that has a responsibility to put our citizen’s interests first and that will be part of my strong focus.”
Can you tell me when your maiden speech will be and provide a bit of snippet of the message you’ll be conveying and what you’re most passionate about?
“The speech will be on August 16 and it will contain a window of my passions and life experiences and my goals that I’ll be aiming to achieve-namely where I want to see Australia head in the coming years.”
What are your initial impressions about the other members of your One Nation team and the leader Pauline Hanson – can you work together and maintain discipline throughout this term of parliament?
“I have found Pauline Hanson to be a generous and approachable leader. She is a person of high integrity and works very hard at making sure Australians and Australia advance in the right diction. I am proud to be part of PHON and I can say that the other two Senators in Brian Burston and Malcom Roberts have been nothing but open and hospitable. It’s a pleasure to be working with these three great people.”
Tell me something about yourself nobody else knows?
“I love fishing but I’m allergic to fish.”