2009 Queensland election: An interview with Joff Lelliot, Labor candidate for Clayfield

I live in the north inner Brisbane electorate of Clayfield, one of the most marginal seats in Queensland. Clayfield is bounded by the Brisbane River, Moreton Bay, the Schulz Canal, Nundah, Gympie Road and Albion. Currently held by the LNP’s Tim Nicholls (who defeated then Labor MP Liddy Clark in 2006) with a margin of 1.7 percent, it has been re-defined as a notional Labor seat with a 0.2 percent margin due to a redistribution of 3,000 voters from the Stafford electorate (disclosure: Woolly Days was one of the three thousand). Yet despite the redistribution, ABC election analyst Antony Green says “it is certain” Nicholls will retain the seat.The man Labor has charged with removing that certainty is Dr Joff Lelliot. Lelliot is extraordinarily well educated. He began his career in academia, and completed a PhD and research fellowship in History of Science. He also has master’s degrees in ethnic relations (MSc) and politics (MA) as well as graduate certificates in journalism and business. After spending a couple of years in the public service, Lelliot moved into banking and insurance where he still works. He moved to the electorate in 2001 and now lives in Hamilton with partner Ainslie. “We don’t have any children – yet,” he said. “I turned 40 last year, so having a family is becoming a high priority!”Joff Lelliot is involved in many local community groups such as Melrose Park Bushcare Group, Rotary Club of Albion, Nundah Historical Society and Pinkenba Community Association. He has also been a member of The Fabian Society for several years. Lelliot joined the ALP in early 2000 and quickly found it took over a large part of his life. Lelliot told me he has spent a lot of time working in Labor’s policy committees – Economic Management, Environment and Heritage, and Housing Local Govt and Planning. “As well as getting candidates elected, one of my key interests is in developing good policy,” he said.

Lelliot expanded on what he thought good policy might be for Clayfield. “The most important issue for the electorate is to have an MP who is listening and whose focus is entirely on the electorate delivering the services, infrastructure and improvements that people in the area need,” he said. “This means being properly involved in the community.” He also pointed to the transport infrastructure being built in the electorate – Northern Busway, Airport Link, Gateway Duplication and Airport Roundabout. “Clayfield needs an MP who can ensure these and other projects are delivered on time, on budget and with the least possible disruption to local communities,” he said.

Looking more broadly at Queensland issues, Lelliot said there needed to be a focus on protecting jobs and preparing the economy for the up turn. “This includes getting the best projects for our local public and independent schools from the stimulus package, building the new specialist Children’s Emergency Department at the Prince Charles Hospital and delivering transport project,” he said. “ It is vital that we also make our economy and lifestyles more environmentally sustainable – this is not something to be delayed because of the global financial crisis.”

I asked him how Labor would fight the charge they are going to polls early in order to avoid a worsening economic situation later in the year. Lelliot says Labor has admitted the economy will get worse before it gets better. But he believes the election presents Queenslanders with two parties with very different plans. “You need to choose the plan you believe is going to see us through in better shape,” he said. “We need to do that sooner rather than later so that the new government – whatever its political leaning – can get on with its job.”

When I questioned what were Labor’s weaknesses coming into the election, Lelliot said the biggest challenge was “simply longevity”. But he quickly added that now was not the time to “give the other bloke a go” – what was needed experience, stability and a solid track record. He says that over the last ten years Labor may have aggrieved some people by taking tough rather than popular decisions. He pointed to the example of the Children’s Hospital. “Expert opinion in Australia and overseas overwhelmingly supports bigger hospitals as the way to provide top quality healthcare,” he said. “Lawrence Springborg supported the idea three years ago, but in the last two weeks decided to oppose the plans when the only thing that has changed is what opinion polls say.”

I then asked him whether there was anything to admire about the LNP leader. Lelliot said he was impressed by Springborg’s ability to bring together two very different parties “with very different worldviews and constituencies, and fashion them into one party without having a political bloodbath.” But since the merger, he says, people are still waiting to found out what the LNP stands for other than anti-Labor. “I think most people are wondering whether Springborg has the ideas and abilities to lead the State rather than just create a new party,” he said.

Determined to finish on a lighter note, I asked him about his name. While some people are lucky (or perhaps unlucky) enough to have one unusual name, Joff Lelliot has two. Joff, he said, is short for Jonathan. “ When I was younger my friends and siblings could never say Jonathan, it was always “Joffnan” and so it morphed into Joff and then stuck,” he says. “If you put “Joff” into a search engine, there are a surprising number of us out there.” (That is true enough as a Google search found 275,000 Joffs)

Meanwhile, the surname Lelliott is a variation on Elliott. It was originally a French name L’Elliott. The L’Elliots that moved from France to England in the 13th and 14th centuries dropped the “L”. But his branch of the family were Huguenots who went to England to escape the French Revolution. “Unhelpfully, they only dropped the apostrophe,” he says, “leaving generations of Lelliotts with a name that most people think is misspelt!” In eleven days time, Joff Lelliot will be hoping Clayfield voters will trust him enough to put a number one next to his name, whether they think it misspelt or not.

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