It’s been a year since Tasmanian Labor Senator Lisa Singh pulled a victory out of the hat in the 2016 federal election.
The outspoken senator became embroiled in factional conflict within the Labor Party, which culminated in her being relegated to the bottom of the Senate ticket when the double dissolution election rolled around.
But, against all odds, a groundswell of popular support returned Senator Singh to Canberra.
“I think you have to make the most of every day you’re there, because things change, as we know,” she told Fairfax Media.
“All kinds of things happen in politics and some of it’s out of our control.
“I do think that factional politics … takes on a life of its own sometimes and the reasons why people end up where they do on Senate tickets ... tends to be for all kinds of odd reasons rather than reasons of merit.”
In 2015, Senator Singh publicly called for an end to Australia’s “inhumane” offshore detention system for asylum seekers.
Mere months later, she found herself with her back against the wall, as her own party tried to orchestrate her downfall.
Yet it appeared as though they underestimated the breadth of her community ties.
“I’ve never had so many people calling and coming in the office and wanting to be part of something in that way and in such a strong way,” Senator Singh said.
“And it was really the people’s win at the end of the day.”
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To celebrate the one-year anniversary of her 2016 victory, Senator Singh took her staff out for lunch in Hobart.
“I wanted to just bring everyone back together to make them reflect on that incredible campaign,” she said.
“And also just to make sure that people remember[ed] I really, really appreciated all the help that they gave [me].”
Politics runs in Senator Singh’s family.
Her grandfather was a member of Fiji’s Legislative Council in the 1960s and ‘70s, fighting for independence from the British Empire.
Fiji achieved independence in 1970.
It might be said that Senator Singh’s life-long interest in human rights can be traced back to her lineage.
“I always looked up to [my grandfather],” she said.
When Senator Singh graduated from the University of Tasmania in 1996, she joined the Labor Party and became active in the women’s rights space.
This led to her standing for, and winning, the seat of Denison in the 2006 state election.
Senator Singh served as parliamentary secretary to former Premier Paul Lennon and as a minister under the Bartlett government.
Failing to get reelected in 2010, she felt she had “unfinished business”.
Having liaised extensively with former Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard, as well as with former Consumer Affairs Minister Chris Bowen, Senator Singh had built a healthy relationship with federal Labor.
“That certainly made the transition into the Senate quite comfortable when I was elected in 2010,” she said.
Senator Singh soon found that she was better suited to the “big picture nature” of federal politics.
“When you’re working on policy development that doesn’t just affect your local community, but affects every community in the whole country, there’s something about that that is really enriching,” she said.
I do think that factional politics … takes on a life of its own sometimes and the reasons why people end up where they do on Senate tickets ... tends to be for all kinds of odd reasons rather than reasons of meritTasmanian Labor Senator Lisa Singh
Nonetheless, Senator Singh demonstrated that she would not hesitate to break Labor ranks if she thought certain party policies were on the nose.
Most recently, she spoke out against the development of the Adani Carmichael coal mine in North Queensland.
While Coalition policy is to subsidise the project, Labor’s position is to allow the mine to proceed without government funding.
Senator Singh believes the idea should be jettisoned entirely.
She also called out her party for approving a television advertisement with the slogan “employ Australians first” and featuring Opposition Leader Bill Shorten flanked by a group of white workers.
Senator Singh said it was “regrettable”, but she believed Labor had learnt its lesson.
She scoffed at the suggestion that her values were more in alignment with those of the Greens.
“When people say that, I say to them, ‘No, the Greens have taken Labor’s values … and called them their own, rather than the other way around,’” she said.
Of her approach to politics, the Senator said this.
“I’d always encourage people to remember what it was that made them … stand for politics in the first place and I would hope that it goes back to what they believe in and their values,” she said.
“That’s what makes them join whichever political party they choose.”
For Senator Singh, of course, that party was the Labor Party.
“But that doesn’t mean we always have every … policy position right,” she said.
Senator Singh rejected the notion that her relationship with the party was unworkable, highlighting that there were numerous instances in which she worked constructively with her Labor colleagues to secure good outcomes.
“At times, not everyone agrees,” she said.
“And that’s the nature of politics and you have to weigh that up as far as how important that issue is, where it sits with your values and hope to bring people with you along the way.
“That’s what I tend to do and most of the time it’s successful.”