ACT News


The evolution of a Gentleman

A passion for driving around rally tracks has prepared Mick Gentleman for his second attempt at politics, writes Michael Inman.

Mick Gentleman got his first taste of political action when Prime Minister Gough Whitlam was infamously dismissed in 1975.

Gentleman, then a public servant with the Department of Foreign Affairs, downed tools and joined the masses at the front of the now Old Parliament House to chant 'We want Gough' in protest.

''It was fantastic. It felt like there actually could've been a revolution, so many people were angry about it,'' Gentleman says.

The moment proved pivotal in the then 20-year-old's life.

A year later, Gentleman had his first political victory when he organised a demonstration against onerous licensing requirements for amateur radio operators.

While less glamorous than protesting a constitutional crisis, Gentleman organised a convoy, rally and delivered a petition to Parliament.


The action ultimately resulted in the laws changed soon after. But rather than pursue politics. Gentleman became involved in the union movement, first as a member of the public service union and then in the Transport Workers Union in the 1990s.

He is still a member of both organisations.

Gentleman belatedly joined the Labor Party in 1996.

''I loved the work and feel of politics but hadn't thought to make a career of it until I joined the ALP.''

Gentleman went on to become a party heavyweight and convener of the Left faction - a role he gave up last year when he was preselected to run in Brindabella - and was an MLA from 2004 to 2008.

Many pundits viewed his announcement to recontest Brindabella in October with cynicism. Gentleman was elected on his first tilt at office in 2004, only to be unceremoniously dumped by the voters in 2008.

But through hard graft and sheer willpower - his team reportedly door-knocked more than 6000 homes and leafleted more than five times that number - Gentleman clawed back the position vacated by retiring Labor MLA John Hargreaves.

Gentleman insisted upon having his old office upon moving back into the Legislative Assembly this week, forcing fellow Labor MLA Mary Porter down the hallway in the process.

It's like the past four years in the wilderness didn't happen.

He admits it wasn't easy chasing public office after his 2008 defeat but he drew upon years of experience as a competitive rally car racer to bolster his spirits.

''[Losing in 2008] was a surprise, we weren't expecting it.

''In my sporting career I've had ups and downs. You can win a round of the Australian rally championship or you could crash the car. But along the way there have been a lot of times when we didn't finish for whatever reason but that does not mean you don't get to try again.''

It's that outlook on life that has seen Gentleman take on numerous professions.

He famously worked as security officer in the offices Bob Hawke and Paul Keating when each was prime minister..

He has also worked as a mechanic, postman, public servant, real estate agent and small businessman.

Gentleman may have led many lives, but they have all been in the capital. He was born, raised, educated in Canberra and has always called it home.

But unlike many old Canberrans, Gentleman has no qualms about watching his hometown grow from a public service village to a thriving city state. He supports suburban infill and helped plan greenfield suburbs such as the Molonglo development.

''I've been able to watch Canberra grow from 30,000 people to 370,000 … It's wonderful to watch new people create their lives and careers in Canberra.''

Population projections predict the capital will hit 500,000 inhabitants by 2043 and Gentleman says providing the infrastructure to cope with that boom must begin now.

''There has to be a lot of work in planning and making sure it's sustainable at that level.''

Gentleman's record as an MLA displays his green credentials. He researched and tabled the Gross Feed-in-Tariff for Canberra while chairman of the standing committee on planning and environment. About 60 Canberran home were connected and producing electricity before the legislation, now about 10,800 homes are powered by the sun.

Most pleasing to Gentleman, though, was the subsequent creation of jobs and impact on the industry the legislation produced.

But how does a rally car racer with a collection of seven motorcycles and two cars reconcile being a petrol head and an environmentalist?

''I have a four 4KW solar system on my roof which provides enough power [to service] my own and my neighbour's home.

''I think my footprint is pretty good,'' he declares.

''That's a message we need to get out. We need to grow Canberra's sustainably but that doesn't mean you have to give up things you like.''

Gentleman also nominated the revitalisation of Tuggeranong as his mission during his new term in office.

''We want to see an increase in jobs and career opportunities there.''

In September, Labor released a Tuggeranong master plan that included the construction of about 7800 residential dwellings and relocation of the Tuggeranong town centre bus interchange.

''It will be a fantastic opportunity to grow Tuggeranong and revitalise the area around the Hyperdome.''