Tucked away on an increasingly hip strip in the heart of Maroochydore’s Ocean Street is the office of Andrew Wallace. The street was aching for a revamp although it’s the last thing on this barrister’s mind at the moment: he’s just thrown his hat into the ring to run for the LNP in Fisher.
His interest in politics was borne out of a childhood watching his parents carve a living out of their small businesses. Their hard-work ethos rubbed off on a young Wallace, who began work as an apprentice carpenter in his late teens, then upgraded to a builder, before completing his degree at QUT in Brisbane to practice law. His career as a barrister focussed on construction litigation, giving the former chippie a more integral role in how the construction industry works.
“I joined the LNP 18 years ago so it’s been a long passion of mine,” Wallace says in his measured manner of speaking. “I’ve been involved in community service since I was 14. I believe if you’re given certain gifts that it’s incumbent upon you to use those gifts for the betterment not just of yourself, but for those around you.”
Those philanthropic attributes are not at odds with the difficult mission ahead of him. Wallace is hoping to replace Mal Brough in the troubled seat of Fisher, now infamous for the sexual harassment and misuse of funds of another barrister-cum-politician, Peter Slipper.
Keen to avoid a repeat of a Slipper-type slip-up in office, he is clear that it is effective representation for residents in the Fisher electorate, an area that covers key towns in the Sunshine Coast, that he is focussing his energy on.
“My past life would demonstrate that I’m not someone that will put my tail between my legs and go home if I don’t get things my way,” he says. “I’ve worked very hard to get where I am today and life would have been probably a whole lot simpler if I’d stayed swinging a hammer but I thought that I had something more to contribute."
He unsuccessfully ran against Brough for preselection in 2012. Brough, who is no stranger to controversy himself, has had his time in the Sunshine Coast sun and now Wallace has been endorsed by the LNP
It’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance but Wallace seems to have perfected it, posting to-the-point Facebook memes and outspoken convictions – “you may not agree with what I have to say, but you’ll be left in no uncertain terms as to what my view is” - that will garner him as many supporters as detractors. Such is politics.
“I’m not going into politics because it’s the most money I’ll ever earn,” he says. “If that was my rationale, I’d stay doing what I’m doing. I don’t believe I will be a standard run-of-the-mill politician. If I could be the most un-politician like politician, I think that would be a good outcome.”
A renowned solicitor since 1978, John Kruger briefed Wallace on construction law and struck up a friendship when he shared the same building in 2001. He echoes the fact that Wallace is a principled man, one of faith and good character.
“To be a very good politician you need to not be doing it for the money, you need to want to make a difference,” Kruger says. “I think he’s more to the centre than to the left or the right. He’s not a renegade but I could see that because he’s such a person of his conscience with his family that in extreme circumstances, he would make a stand.”
Indeed, Wallace is progressive on hot button issues like same-sex marriage and Islam, putting him at odds with others in the LNP clan. On the former, he advocates for equality on the proviso that individual churches are allowed the right to veto it. As for the other cause célèbre, despite intense controversy, a mosque will be built just two blocks away from Wallace’s office. But he rejects a clampdown by the government to impinge on religious beliefs. He is, however, firm that any hardliners should be dealt with according to Australian law.
Listing determination, loyalty and courage as his defining traits, Wallace doesn’t shy away from taking a swing at other parties’ policies either. The compulsory preferential voting motion hastily added onto another bill and passed by the Anna Palaszczuk state government in April is an example. Wallace called it a “travesty of justice”. But in the main, it’s jobs that Wallace is honing in on to appeal to voters.
With four daughters he is, like any father, concerned about their future. “I don’t think anyone has a secure job,” Wallace says. “Not even working for the government is secure anymore. For my girls and for every young person, I want a well-paid job that gives them personal satisfaction. If you don’t enjoy what you do, 50 years is a long time to be miserable.”
Deploring the red tape that jobseekers in the Fisher area have to navigate, and feeling frustrated at people having to commute to Brisbane because they are unable to find employment locally, Wallace is a strong advocate for small business. “Labor believe the best way of decreasing the unemployment rate is to employ more public servants,” he says. "I don’t believe that’s the case. I believe that private industry is the greatest employer and we need to create the right political environment and encourage people to start up their own small business.”
You might be able to take the builder out of the barrister, but you can’t take the builder out of the would-be politician. Wallace is passionate about the re-introduction of the ABCC bill and promises that it will be something he will be pushing hard for in his first 100 days if elected.
“I would like to be a part of a government that reintroduces the Australian building and construction commission,” he says. “Union lawlessness has increased the cost of building sites on union sites by 30%. If you pay taxes, you are involved in the building and construction industry.”