Newly-elected Western Victoria MP Jacinta Ermacora says her upbringing and career have provided a crucial foundation for her parliamentary role.
Ms Ermacora became arguably the south-west's most influential state politician last Saturday, elected at the top of Labor's upper house ticket. She said it was an honour to get the job and she felt well prepared after decades dedicated to her local community.
Trained as a social worker, Ms Ermacora spent 12 years on the Warrnambool City Council including two as mayor, and most recently serving as chair of regional water authority Wannon Water. But she said politics and community involvement had been drummed into her from an early age.
"I grew up on sheep farms in Simpson and Brucknell where mum and dad were both heavily involved in local committees, progress groups and sporting clubs," Ms Ermacora said.
"Mum played tennis and dad played football for Nirranda South, winning a premiership with Bill Couch in 1966. He was always deeply involved in the club and then went on to umpire for many years."
She said her parents fostered a sense that people had a responsibility to strengthen their community.
"Politics at the dining room table was a nightly affair in our house and it was on for young and old," she said.
"I think that's why I've always wanted to make the community I'm in a better place."
After earning a degree in social work, Ms Ermacora worked at the South Western Centre Against Sexual Assault and the Southwest Primary Care Partnership.
"That experience really taught me how I could see the state and the community were all the better for the strength of our most vulnerable," she said.
It was that revelation that drew her to the Labor Party.
"I joined in the late 1990s, around the time Keating lost government," Ms Ermacora said.
"I actually resisted joining for a long time. It was a pretty blokey environment back then."
It was around the same time that she first became involved with Warrnambool City Council.
"I think the influential step in moving from social work into regional leadership was putting my hand up for the council parks and gardens advisory committee," Ms Ermacora said.
"I lodged the application with council and the CEO and mayor brought me in and looked over my CV and said 'you can do more than this'."
She ended up chairing the committee to redevelop the Lake Pertobe playground, then in 2004 she was elected to council for the first time.
"I learned very quickly that council is much more than roads, rates and rubbish," Ms Ermacora said.
"It runs a theatre, a gallery, a pool and botanical gardens, all sorts of things that need specific skills and knowledge to manage."
She said her time as a councillor gave her experience that would be invaluable in Spring Street.
"Negotiating with colleagues in local government, understanding the priorities and view of your colleagues, meeting with a diverse cross-section of the community, all of that has been hugely valuable," she said.
"Then there are more boring but still important things like governance, knowing what a good strategy looks like."
Ms Ermacora said the council's strategic planning work during her tenure was a particular point of pride.
"When I came to council we had only two years of residential land supply left. There was so little land that Warrnambool had the most expensive land prices in regional Victoria," she said.
"When I left we had between 25 and 28 years' supply."
She also pushed new regulations forcing developers to include playgrounds and open spaces in their plans.
"At the time new developments didn't have playgrounds and by the time council got around to planning, funding and building a playground the kids in the families that had first moved into the developments had grown up and moved on."
Ms Ermacora became mayor in 2010, pushing a proposal for affordable housing in Dennington that won a community development award from Economic Development Australia in 2014.
The scheme provided grants of up to $20,000 to homeseekers who were struggling to save enough to break into the housing market.
"The Dennington affordable housing scheme is something I'm incredibly proud of," she said.
"It gave people who were just outside the eligibility for a home loan the chance to own a home."
Ms Ermacora said her work as chair of Wannon Water since 2015 had given her vital insight into how a large organisation can become "carbon neutral", which would be hugely important as the Andrews government sets ambitious net zero and renewable energy goals.
"(Water Minister) Lisa Neville asked all the water corporations for a 2025 plan to carbon neutrality. Wannon Water has already passed (its 2025) goal," she said.
"It was a privilege to see the direct impact of a carbon neutrality strategy. The rubber really hits the road on looking at what something like that means at the practical level for a major business."
But she said the Warrnambool Sewage Treatment Plant upgrade was the most significant project she had overseen, transforming a key piece of regional infrastructure.
"It's as much an industrial treatment plant for dairy and meat waste water as it is for residential sewage treatment. Wannon Water has to meet that need or those businesses can't grow," she said.
Ms Ermacora said it would be a huge responsibility to represent Western Victoria, but she felt she was heading to parliament with a strong track record.
"I'm not in my 30s. I've had practical life experience, and I'll bring that into the role."
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