Former vet Michael McCluskey is hoping to give voters food for thought on Saturday, ALEX SINNOTT reports.
JACK McCluskey has always been a strong believer in balancing his books and keeping household finances in order.
The retired Warrnambool mechanic has never stood for public office but is proud that his son Michael is making his first political push and espousing the values he passed on to him.
“Dad’s integrity is something that I’ve always admired,” the independent candidate for South West Coast said yesterday.
“He’s the type of bloke that when there’s a choice between paying a bill or going without food for a day, he’d go hungry.
“That’s one of the things I’ve taken into my campaign. If households have to balance their budgets and be careful with what they spend, then why shouldn’t government?”
The father and son duo sat down yesterday to discuss the McCluskey campaign for South West Coast and share a few stories about Michael’s progression from university student and farmhand, to veterinarian and now independent candidate.
Jack said his son displayed a marked curiosity of the world around him from an early age.
“He sailed through schoolwork and I was very proud of him going through university,” Mr McCluskey said. “His mum died when he was young and that’s tough on any young fella. He has always been intelligent and a hard worker; when he put his mind to things he always did well.”
British author James Herriot was one of the main reasons why Michael decided to pursue a veterinary career. The 51-year-old recalls his time as a teenager reading about Herriot’s tweedy tales of life as a Yorkshire vet and enjoying the television adaptation All Creatures Great and Small.
“I was already interested in farming and animals generally but James Herriot summed up all the great things involved in being a vet,” he said. “All Creatures Great and Small got me hooked on the idea of veterinary work.”
Dr McCluskey went to study at Melbourne University after finishing high school but left after 18 months to work on a Terang dairy farm for a few years.
He also served with the now defunct Commonwealth Employment Service (CES) in the mid-1980s, a role that left a lasting impression.
“We used to work on cards — the old-fashioned way — plenty of paperwork,” Dr McCluskey said. “Then CES offices got an order of computers, thousands and thousands spent on these computers, and they were never used.
“It always struck me that if a small business did that, waste money on something that they didn’t need, they’d be out of business.”
Dr McCluskey returned to complete his veterinary degree soon after, graduating in 1989. For two decades he mainly worked as a vet in the equestrian sector.
“That time working on dairy farms really gave me the practical knowledge needed to be a vet,” he said.
“To be honest, I went back to uni to get the ticket, but the real education occurs on the job.
“It’s a great profession. A different day often means a different location and different people to meet. I could never be one of those people that are stuck in an office, looking at the four walls all day.”
While he found his veterinary career rewarding, a burning interest in political affairs bubbled beneath the surface. Dr McCluskey said he had harboured ambitions to stand for office for about two decades but the timing was never right. Until the 2014 state election.
Dr McCluskey had to leave his veterinary work after sustaining a serious back injury 18 months ago.
“It’s a far more physical job than people give it credit,” he said.
“I dealt with a lot of horse work, so you’re constantly challenged by the animals you work with and everyone knows that horses carry a lot of weight behind them.”
While he was intrigued by the political process, Dr McCluskey said he was never keen on the rancourous nature of party debate. University politics was never his bag and has long been a swinging voter.
“I’ve voted Labor, I’ve voted Liberal and I’ve voted Greens,” he said. “I’m one of those people who vote on policy. I look at the policies and make a decision on balance. There’s some things I like about one party and some I like about another but there was never one that lined up on everything I believed in.”
The McCluskey campaign has homed in on a diverse suite of issues; from establishing an “agricultural-type investment bond fund,” to establishing a “debt handbrake” mechanism and increased funding for the Ride for the Disabled program, now known as RDA Victoria.
RDA has been close to Dr McCluskey’s heart. Since leaving veterinary work, Dr McCluskey has worked with the Warrnambool group alongside other voluntary pursuits.
“I have a lot of passions and the RDA is one of those because you can see the direct benefits it provides,” he said.
Both father and son say they are not expecting a McCluskey victory in South West Coast on Saturday, but they’re hoping Michael’s campaign gives voters food for thought.
“When I told dad I was running for South West Coast he was a bit concerned that because I don’t have a party profile, I’ll only get five votes,” Michael said.
“Six votes, I think I said,” Jack chimes in with a wry smile. “But I think it will be better than that on second thoughts. I think he’ll do pretty well.”