The road to political life for Australia’s youngest-ever representative to Federal Parliament started when a university academic suggested he embark upon a life in public service born out of economics. “I was doing economics and it was my economics teacher who said, ‘you understand economics and you understand social justice, and if you put the two together, you could actually make a difference’,” Wyatt Roy says, gazing out the window in his electorate office in Caboolture.
“She convinced me to join a political party and get involved in the process. So I did and once I became involved, I realised you can actually make a difference in people’s lives.”
As the current member for Longman in Brisbane’s outer-northern suburbs, and the Assistant Minister for Innovation in the Turnbull Government, Roy has achieved a stellar rise into public life since receiving that key advice as a teenager. He was pre-selected in the seat in 2010 against the wishes of then-Liberal leader Tony Abbott, and has become one of the Government’s rising stars.
Born in Buderim, he developed a passion for rural farming before moving up the ranks to be president of the Sunshine Coast youth wing of the Liberal National Party during 2009 and 2010. When he was elected to Longman on the night of the 2010 win, former Treasurer Peter Costello anointed Roy the Liberal leader by 2035.
His entry into Parliament was soon quickly filled with events and achievements. Malcolm Turnbull, the then Shadow Communications Minister, described Roy in 2010 as “one of the most extraordinary people I’ve ever met”. Roy, who credits Robert Menzies and Winston Churchill as political heroes, also gave a well-publicised speech in Parliament about Labor not delivering a surplus in his lifetime on his 21st birthday. Apart from being a student pilot, he was also named as one of Cleo’s Most Eligible Bachelors, and found love.
Despite his youth, Roy has been involved in some key political events. He played a part in the controversial downfall of Peter Slipper, the former Speaker and member for Fisher, who faced allegations of harassment and entitlements misuse. Roy was also instrumental during the removal of Abbott in the Liberal leadership spill of 2015 that installed Turnbull as Prime Minister.
In his six years as the Member for Longman, and as he seeks a third term on a margin of 6.9 per cent, Roy knows the challenges of being a parliamentarian. “I think the biggest thing you learn is patience,” he says.
“Persistence and dedication is incredibly important when you’re trying to drive down the unemployment rate by creating job opportunities with small businesses or ensuring that we’re sustaining our environment. For me, as the Assistant Minister for Innovation, my job involves working with the Prime Minister to bring together that economic discussion about how we diversify our economy and how we create new job opportunities for all Australians, particularly the next generation.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop, who dubbed Roy the “Prime Minister in 2029”, is a big supporter. She says he is an “active, enthusiastic representative and advocate for the residents of Longman”.
“Wyatt Roy is thriving in his role as Assistant Minister for Innovation and has taken on his portfolio responsibilities with great energy,” Bishop said. “Wyatt has brought great enthusiasm to his role and has proven to be a knowledgeable and insightful member of the ministry. I enjoy working with Wyatt for he is bright, highly talented, competent and fun to be around.”
Representing a region dominated by trade industry workers and an unemployment rate of close to 7 per cent, Roy is highly passionate about the role young people play. Importantly, he doesn’t want the next generation isolated from being involved in the political process.
“It’s really important that young Australians realise that politics is not something they should feel excluded from,” he says. “This is where you can have a say about the future of our country and if people become involved in the political process, whether through voting or through direct engagement in a political party, you can actually change the future of this country.”
But when it comes to tackling the assumption that young people are disengaged from politics, with figures from the Australian Electoral Commission suggesting a 300,000 jump in the informal vote between the 2007 and 2013 elections, including 1,500 over the same period in Longman, Roy is quick to dismiss the findings.
“I reject this notion that young people are disinterested or disengaged from the political process,” he says. “I think they are very aware of what’s happening and they’ve grown up in an environment where they’re saturated with media. They’re the most informed generation that’s ever existed because they’re constantly inundated with media. But I think because of that they have a finely-tuned antenna to a political class that [has] often responded with a soundbyte and they feel rightly in many cases frustrated by the political process responding in that way.”
Roy said his response was based on feedback he received from his close friends. “I know my best mates are not interested in politics but they’re very aware of what’s going on,” he says. “But we have to reach out to people in a way that isn’t talking at them but talking with them. When you engage people in the process that way and people can see their vote is valued and their input is valued, then this is how we overcome the challenge.”
In particular, Roy cautions anyone entering the political field to pursue it for the right reasons and not as a career-driven profession. He says the Prime Minister is a classic case of being a “kind of anti-politician”.
“If you come into politics, it can’t be seen as a career,” he says. “It has to be seen as something you want to do to change the world in which you live. If every decision you made was about ensuring that you stayed in politics and became re-elected, you wouldn’t do anything because doing nothing is very popular while doing something can very often be unpopular.”
Although studying a first-year journalism course, Roy says it’s the media that has taught him how important their role is in keeping politicians like him to account. “I’ve learnt a great deal from the media,” he says.
“One is really thinking through what you’re going to say and talk about and making sure what you’re saying is considered, while not shooting from the hip is really important. You have to focus on this job what you can control and you certainly can’t control the media.”
He heads into this election against candidate Susan Lamb from the Australian Labor Party. Roy gracefully offers his pitch to young people about why they should vote in this election that will decide where Australia heads in the next three years.
“Prime Minister Turnbull has re-engaged young people in the political process,” he says. “He has a real vision for what our country can be – he’s a visionary. Malcolm is somebody who’s deeply excited about what our country’s future is and how we can achieve some pretty remarkable things in a world that is changing quickly, and voters have been captured by his enthusiasm.”
Indeed, as Australia’s youngest parliamentarian, 26-year-old Roy may be the bright light the Parliament needs as the “Prime Minister-in-waiting” for the next generation.