“He might be a nutjob, but he’s our nutjob,” said Mark, a Frankston local who was lighting a cigarette as he waited for a bus. “He’s eccentric and he’s probably bad for Parliament, but I don’t care, he gets things done for Frankston.”
Mark is talking about maverick Victorian MP Geoff Shaw, a polarising figure in his home electorate. It’s appropriate that Melbourne’s least reputable suburb is home to perhaps Victoria’s least reputable MP.
Shaw has again found himself in the spotlight as the provoker behind the Victorian parliamentary crisis. The independent MP has threatened to use his crucial vote to vote down the Coalition Napthine government, and now risks being suspended or expelled from Parliament for misusing his taxpayer-funded car.
With all eyes on Shaw, Crikey headed down to the bayside city of Frankston, an hour out of Melbourne by train. Shaw, who basks in the light of controversy, is in many ways similar to the city he represents. He may be a bit rough around the edges, but a lot of the residents Crikey spoke to kind of liked that renegade quality. He’s seen as a bit of a fighter, but he gets results.
Last year Shaw was the driving force behind a $13.8 million grant that has cleaned up the station and bus interchange areas, a $65,000 initiative to install CCTV cameras around the city and $2.5 million to restore and protect the Kananook Creek and parklands. Sure, he might be using his crucial balance-of-power vote for a bit of pork-barrelling, but from the view of some Frankston residents, it’s yielding results.
And some think things are looking up in Frankston. Council initiatives such as the Thursday farmers’ market have brought a fresh breath of fresh air to the once dreaded streets. The “clean-up” of the city, including frequent police operations around the area, has improved the town’s safety and created a more vibrant, cultural atmosphere.
“Sure, Frankston has some druggies, some bogans and such, but what town doesn’t? People need to look at the positive aspects like our parks, the beautiful scenery, and the beach,” Sara, a local stallholder, told me.
“I hate telling people I’m from Frankston. Where I live is nothing like you may think,” another resident said. “People hear of all this bad stuff happening in Frankston, but it’s actually a lovely place with an undeserved reputation.”
But for every supporter of Shaw on the streets, there was another who was just as annoyed with his business and felt he didn’t represent Frankston properly.
“This isn’t what we voted for,” said Colin of Frankston South. “He’s egotistical and should definitely step down from Parliament. He should’ve just kept quiet until the election in November but has decided to kick up a fuss, and it is not good for politics or for Frankston.”
Colin went on: “Every politician is a bit dodgy in some way, he was stupid enough to get caught. Lots of people steal petrol, I’m not so angry about that, it’s just the integrity of the man — he’s dangerous with power, and we don’t want that representing Frankston.”
Another resident commented: “A lot of us actually don’t like the man, but he’s made Frankston a much better place than it was. Just once, I’d like a good pollie who does good things and isn’t a dickhead — unfortunately I don’t think they exist though.”
Crikey headed to Shaw’s electorate office in central Frankston, where a Sky TV crew and radio journalists waited outside on the pavement, getting ready for live crosses. The receptionist fetched a spokesman (there was no sign of the man himself).
The spokesman told Crikey there had long been a media beat-up around Shaw and his personal affairs. He said people who actually lived in Frankston knew the work Shaw did was great. It’s those outside of the city who looked down on Shaw because the mainstream media depicted him as an untrustworthy and strange man, the spokesman claimed.