By Claire Ottaviano
A LIFE in politics has led to many achievements for Australia’s first female Police Minister and the WA Parliament’s first female Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, but Michelle Roberts says 25 years representing Midland had yielded some of her proudest moments.
The Midland MLA celebrated the two-and a-half decade milestone among local people at the Midland Men’s Shed Christmas bash in December.
She sat down with Echo News this week to talk about how her election to the former Greater City of Perth in 1986 had led to a long career in politics.
“I was only 26, and you don’t have a full appreciation of how young you are when you’re 26,” she said.
“But I was focused on some local issues and the view was, you can sit on the sidelines and complain or you can put your hand up and do something about it.
“It was a very different era it’s hard to imagine now.
“We’d be handed out cigarettes at every meeting because councillors weren’t paid and it was entirely voluntary, part of your perks was cigarettes at meetings.”
She went through four elections in seven-and-a-half years as Perth council underwent several reshuffles before it broke up into three separate councils.
By challenging the break-up of the City, Mrs Roberts unknowingly made a stronger profile for herself when she put her hat in the ring for, and subsequently won, the seat of Glendalough at the 1994 by-election – triggered by the resignation of Carmen Lawrence.
In the following 1996 regular election she won the seat of Midland, which replaced the abolished seats of Helena and Glendalough.
“Back then Midland was in the doldrums,” she said.
“The [Richard] Court Government elected in 1993, ironically on the promise to expand the Midland Railway Workshops, announced the workshops’ closure and it closed later that year.
“Midland had been a huge centre for jobs, training and apprenticeships so they were in a sense grieving that loss.”
Many ideas for the workshops were suggested, from Formula One race tracks to microbreweries.
“It was about reinvigorating Midland and looking for opportunities to bring jobs back into the area,” she said.
“The opportunity to bring major infrastructure and therefore people, life and vitality back into Midland was huge.”
In the past 25 years she has facilitated the moving of Police Headquarters, including communications, traffic and forensics, into the workshops precinct as well as the new Midland Hospital, Curtin Medical School and GP Super Clinic.
“But the most iconic commitment has been re-establishing train building in Midland,” she said.
“It’s a phenomenal turn around for our region and brilliant for WA.
“The build of the facility in Bellevue has involved a lot of local companies and trades people with companies based in Midvale, Hazelmere and Bassendean.”
In 2001 she earnt the title of Australia’s first female Police Minister which she held until 2008 and again from 2013 to 2017.
As well as the more prominent items, the mother-of-three, who has ancestry links to Midland dating back to the late-1800s, said her involvement in schools and local people kept her in the job.
As to the future, Mrs Roberts said nothing was certain in politics.
“About a year out from each election you have to make a decision whether you’re going to contest the pre-election and whether you’re going to commit to the next four years,” she said.
“I got into politics in the first place to make a difference, to better the community and if I didn’t think I had the skills and ability to do that I wouldn’t put my hand up.”