Federal Politics

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Vilma Ward denies being Labor stooge after confronting Tony Abbott on Wake Up!

Poor Bill Shorten. A Brisbane pensioner, Vilma Ward, did a better job of running a critique on the Abbott government’s first budget than the Opposition Leader.

But then she has been in politics much, much longer.

The 85-year-old great-grandmother popped up on the Ten network's Wake Up! program to dismiss Tony Abbott’s attempt to explain that he had not broken any election promises with the budget.

‘‘I have never heard such rubbish in all my life,’’ Mrs Ward said. ‘‘Why don't you leave the pensioners alone? If we pull the belt any tighter we’re going to choke to death. Why are you picking on me?’’

Mr Abbott suggested she was not a Coalition supporter but Mrs Ward fired back. ‘‘Excuse me," she said, "it's got nothing to do with who I vote for and who I don't vote for."


Well, not quite.

Mrs Ward has been an ALP warrior princess since Mr Abbott was in short pants and before Mr Shorten tried on his first nappy.

Mr Shorten was born on May 12, 1967, but nine days earlier Mrs Ward made her national debut as ‘‘a jolly, 38-year-old Brisbane housewife’’ in The Australian Women’s Weekly magazine.

As an early consumer advocate, she was concerned about the rising cost of education and rearing children.

She had plenty of grievances about frozen food being full of water, non-iron shirts not being ironed and charges for wrapping cut loaves of bread. She provided her budget for living on her husband’s $50 a week pay packet: ‘‘There is nothing left over, not a thing.’’

A lot of Brisbane housewives followed in her wake - who could forget Rona Joyner’s heroic campaign against sex education in schools? Or Pauline Hanson’s serial political candidacy?

Mrs Ward remained at the barricades while the others came and went.

She demonstrated against conscription when former South Vietnamese president Marshall Nguyen Cao Ky visited Brisbane. She was accused by the late gargantuan Queensland National MP Russell Hinze of ‘‘pimping on politicians’’ through her consumer advocate work, for which years later she was made an officer of the Order of Australia - in 2009. And she also briefly argued against an Australian republic but pulled out of the 1999 constitutional convention.

In 1998 she joined Kevin Rudd’s Griffith campaign committee and stage-managed his events in the electorate.

She was the sort of local a politician on the make needed to befriend.

Mrs Ward wielded influence around Bulimba in the days before the Rudds and others gentrified the Brisbane riverside suburb. She has been president of the Bulimba Elderly Citizens Club for as long as most of her members can remember and her husband, Len, a former Queensland state secretary of the Transport Workers Union, was the ALP’s local numbers man who protected Rudd from factional enemies.

“He used to come round for morning breakfast at 6am and have Vegemite and toast sandwiches, and Len and him would talk for hours,” she told Fairfax Media

Little wonder then when the Ten Network went looking for talent Mrs Ward was a shoo-in for the role of Labor’s pensioner in the street.

She denied suggestions that she had been placed as a Labor stooge to embarrass Mr Abbott.

Mrs Ward said she had not been a member of the Labor Party for about 40 years and chose to quit because they “told me I should think Labor and act Labor at all times".

Mrs Ward said she was angered when the Prime Minister suggested on-air that it was obvious she was not a Coalition voter.

“It’s my business who I vote for and why I vote for them. His job is to make sure senior citizens are looked after and the country is being properly handled. He’s failing miserably on all points,” she told Fairfax Media.

“He’s big enough and ugly enough to be able to cop the criticism ... He was laughing. He thought it was a joke and I wasn’t joking. That showed the calibre of the man.

“He didn’t respect my point of view and he didn’t appreciate me criticising him.”

While Mrs Ward was enjoying the hype from Wednesday’s interview, she stressed that seniors around the country were doing it tough.  

“I went up to see my doctor and there were people sitting in the waiting room saying, “Good on you Vilma, you gave it to him!” she said.

The phone at Mrs Ward’s house was also ringing off the hook on Wednesday, with well wishes coming from friends, family and even Mr Rudd’s Griffith replacement, Terri Butler.

“She said, ‘Vilma it was priceless, you called him a comedian’.”

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