Meet your new Assembly: How Aerobics Oz Style led Elizabeth Lee to a career in politics
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Meet your new Assembly: How Aerobics Oz Style led Elizabeth Lee to a career in politics

The October ACT election saw the Legislative Assembly expand to a record 25 seats. In a special series Katie Burgess profiles the new faces.

Elizabeth Lee reckons her ability to walk into a room and own it harks back to her group fitness instructor training.

As a 16-year-old, she would groove along to Aerobics Oz Style with little hand weights every weekday morning.

Elizabeth Lee MLA.

Elizabeth Lee MLA.Credit:Jamila Toderas

Later, while studying law at the Australian National University, she started teaching self-defence at Fernwood Fitness (she is a taekwondo instructor).

Before her class, though, she would watch the group fitness and be hit with nostalgia. That's why she decided to make like Wendi and June and learn how to teach it.

The Canberra Liberal Campaign Launch. Candidate for Kurrajong Elizabeth Lee.

The Canberra Liberal Campaign Launch. Candidate for Kurrajong Elizabeth Lee.Credit:Jamila Toderas

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"It's going to sound really weird but I used to tell my students that anything you do ... you need to think about it in terms of being transferable," Lee laughed.

"So for me, you know, getting the confidence to speak in front of people, to project my voice, a lot of it actually came from my aerobics training. It sounds weird but it's true."

It's hard to believe the new Member for Kurrajong – and one of the Canberra Liberals' rising stars – ever had confidence issues.

The oldest daughter of a migrant family, her parents left a "pretty comfortable life" in Korea to seek out better education opportunities for Lee and her sister Rosa (another sister Sarah would come along two years later in Australia).

Elizabeth Lee MLA. photo by: Jamila Toderas

Elizabeth Lee MLA. photo by: Jamila ToderasCredit:Jamila Toderas

By her admission, Lee wasn't a great university student. She worked too much but found the life experience her job gave her far more valuable than sitting in class.

"Through that the networking started happening and I think that's when I start to realise the value of that connection and that really gave me quite a bit of motivation to go into practice," she said.

Elizabeth Lee was pulled into politics by ACT Liberal Senator Zed Seselja.

Elizabeth Lee was pulled into politics by ACT Liberal Senator Zed Seselja. Credit:Karleen Minney

After uni, she worked in the Commonwealth Attorney-General's Department and with the Australian Government Solicitor for a while, before heading into private practice.

But in an "ironic" career move, Lee has lectured at the ANU's legal workshop for the past six years.

The new shadow ministry(back from left): Andrew Wall, Mark Parton, James Milligan, Alistair Coe, Steve Doszpot. (From front left) Giulia Jones, Nicole Lawder, Elizabeth Lee, Elizabeth Kikkert and Vicki Dunne.

The new shadow ministry(back from left): Andrew Wall, Mark Parton, James Milligan, Alistair Coe, Steve Doszpot. (From front left) Giulia Jones, Nicole Lawder, Elizabeth Lee, Elizabeth Kikkert and Vicki Dunne.Credit:Karleen Minney

"I'm a much better teacher than I ever was a student," she said. "Well, I hope my students see it that way."

Lee was pulled into politics by Liberal senator Zed Seselja.

"I had joined the Liberal party but I wasn't active at all. I didn't go to a single meeting until about maybe even a year later," she said.

"I ran into Zed at an alumni function because he's also an ANU law graduate and I went up to him just to say 'hey, can I get a photo' – so nerdy – 'because I'm going to show my dad' and he was really nice actually. He said 'come along to the next meeting, I'll introduce you'.

"Then we kept in touch, we had coffee a few times and it was actually Zed that contacted me, I think it was the end of 2011, and said 'I know that we talked about this and you said maybe you had an interest in politics, we've got an election coming up next year, have you thought about running in it?' "

Lee missed out on the Assembly seat won by Liberal Steve Doszpot by just 255 votes.

A year later, she took on Andrew Leigh in Labor's safe federal seat of Fraser, and gained a 1.58 per cent swing to the Liberals.

"I knew I had nothing to lose. It was good experience because, you know, when else am I going to get a chance to, you know, sort of debate with someone like Andrew Leigh."

While election analyst Malcolm Mackerras predicted Lee would be the ACT's next Liberal chief minister, she is coy about her political ambitions.

"I've been very privileged to be elected by the people of Kurrajong so doing everything that is within my control and power to be able to represent their views in the assembly is going to be my No.1 priority," she said.

"I'm happy to serve in whatever capacity that I can so, you know, so we'll see how we go. I'm sort of still finding my feet, making sure that I do the best by my team and the people that elected me."

Katie Burgess is a reporter for the Canberra Times, covering ACT politics.