Former social worker Catherine King is set to become a minister in Bill Shorten’s cabinet, should the ALP win government.
King has been the local member for Ballarat in Western Victoria since 2001, when she was the only Labor party candidate to win a seat from the Coalition in John Howard’s third electoral victory as Prime Minister.
Her star really started to rise after the 2010 election when she was appointed Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing in the government led by Julia Gillard, and she rose to the key role of opposition Health Spokeswoman in 2013 in the Shadow Cabinet led by Bill Shorten.
Trained as a social worker, King became politically active after university. Her first job was working with young people at Ballarat’s Child and Family Services. She found herself angry on behalf of her clients at changes Paul Keating’s government made to unemployment benefit access.
She decided to best way to affect change was to join the party. “I wasn’t happy with some of the things that the Labor government was doing and I thought I can either sit back and say this is really terrible, but I decided you can only get change if you’re prepared to step up.”
“You’ve got to be in there, you’ve got to be engaged, you can’t just be a commentator if you actually want to make life better for people.”
King appears to have a significant work ethic. When Unipollwatch spoke to her, she was attending the 10th anniversary celebrations for the Ballarat East Men’s Shed, after already that day visiting communities in Mount Edgerton and Elaine - small towns in the south-western corner of the electorate.
Mayor of Moorabool Alan Comrie has witnessed King’s work ethic first hand. “We would see her on a weekly basis virtually. There’s always something she’s at. She gives to us quite well, she does a lot of work,“ he said.
As King interacted with members at the Men’s Shed, the duties of a local member seemed to come naturally to her, demonstrating she is very much part of the community.
Gary Palmer, principal of Ballarat High School said, “Catherine King is a really, really nice person.“
Palmer tells warmly of an experience that stood out to him, walking through the corridors of his school. “There is Catherine inside a classroom, working with a senior business management class around governance. I didn’t ask her to come up, the teacher did,” he said.
The fondness for King may be for her personally and her effort, but there are complaints about her policy record.
“She’s been in that seat for 15 years,” said Greens candidate Alice Barnes. “I think that there are areas she hasn’t done enough, in particular social inequality.
“She often talks about that, being an ex-social worker, being the most important issue to her, yet social inequality has actually increased in this electorate in the 15 years.”
Unsurprisingly, King is most animated when talking about the health portfolio, a day after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull reversed the government’s decision to end bulk billing incentive payments for pathology.
“What an absolute sham,” King said, “it is literally an election fix, and it is a sham. “Couldn’t care less about patients this government, at all.“
When pressed on specific plans for Ballarat, King focused on the Labor policies of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) coming to the area in 2016 and the job boosting benefits that resulted from Ballarat receiving the national broadband network (NBN) first under Labor.
“The investment Labor made into the NBN three years ago, we now have businesses that are setup and established,” she said.
King’s hardest negotiation may be with her nearly-eight-year-old son Ryan, whose birthday is in the middle of the election campaign.
“He said he wanted another dog, and I said, ‘look maybe when you’re eight.’ He’s now about to turn eight, and I’m thinking a puppy in the middle of an election campaign?
“Not sure that’s the best idea.”