As an 11-year-old kid Will Hodgman learned one of the most important lessons in politics – how to say “no” to powerful people.
It was the day after the Federal election in October 1980 and Will’s father Michael had just been re-elected as the Federal Member for Denison.
“After an election – win, lose or draw – it was traditional in our household to hold a party and they were usually long affairs, starting at about seven in the morning and finishing late at night,” Will Hodgman says.
“The phone rang a lot and dad asked me to answer it and to take messages. One call was from this person who identified himself as Malcolm Fraser who asked to talk to dad. I told him my instructions were clear and that I was to take a message”.
“He was stern and asked me to get dad, but I insisted.
“Later that night when I handed dad the messages, he said ‘when did this one call?’ and I told him it had been much earlier. He immediately raced from the room to call him back.
“Fraser had been calling to offer dad a ministry,” Will Hodgman recalls.
The anecdote is by way of an explanation of what it was like to grow up in a political family. Will says it ensured he grew up comfortable in the political environment.
“I’ve grown up in a family that has been active in politics, whereas for some people standing for the first time it is an unfamiliar environment,” he said.
Except for about two years (1964-66) there has been a Hodgman in either the Legislative Council or the House of Assembly since 1955.
Will’s grandfather Bill Hodgman was Member of the House of Assembly (MHA) for Denison from 1955 to 64, then was elected as Member of the Legislative Council (MLC) for Queenborough – eventually rising to become the upper house president in the two years before his retirement from politics in 1983.
Michael Hodgman, Will’s father, was MLC for Huon from 1966 to 1974, then Federal Member for Denison from 1974 to 1983 and Minister in the Fraser Government, and finally MHA for Denison from 1992 to 2010.
Another Hodgman, Peter, Will’s uncle, was MLC for Huon from 1974 to 1986, then MHA for Franklin and a Minister in the Gray, Groom and Rundle governments.
Will was first elected to the House of Assembly seat of Franklin in 2002 – the year the Liberals almost imploded with Bob Cheek as Opposition Leader. It wasn’t all bad for the Liberals as it was also the year his Deputy Jeremy Rockliff and Shadow Treasurer Peter Gutwein got elected for the first time.
Failing a sudden and unlikely reversal of political fortunes or some other political calamity, Will Hodgman will be Tasmania’s next Premier.
After leading the Liberal Party to a 7.2 per cent swing and the highest number of votes of any of the parties at the 2010 State election, Will was clearly angry, then disappointed at the failure to grasp government.
Now he is more philosophical.
When asked how it felt to get such a big personal vote in Franklin (the third highest in State elections and the highest for an Opposition Leader) he notes it might have been better for some of those votes to have gone to his fellow Liberal Franklin candidate.
“Perhaps we would have won. I still feel we should have been allowed to form government without a formal agreement with other parties.
“There was a precedent for that model with the Rundle minority government between 1996 and 1998.”
Nevertheless, Will says 10 years in Opposition may prove beneficial.
“A decade in Opposition is a good apprenticeship. It teaches you about parliament and about how to shadow government ministers with fewer staff and resources for the whole Opposition than even one minister, and you have to get your head around all the portfolios.
“It is also an opportunity to get out into the community and meet people. I represent the people of Franklin, but as Opposition Leader I travel to every corner of the State, meet people and listen to them.”
Will Hodgman was born and educated in Hobart. He graduated in Arts and Law at the University of Tasmania in 1993 and was admitted as a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Tasmania in 1994.
As a kid he spent a lot of time with his father and family in Canberra – virtually having the run of the old Parliament House – but if he was destined for politics he didn’t t feel it until much later.
“A former primary school teacher recalled I had once said that I wanted to be the Prime Minister but I can’t recall that. Certainly as a young adult I didn’t t think politics was for me. It wasn’t a consideration until after I returned from the UK.”
Will travelled to the UK in 1995 and worked for the Wiltshire County Council, prosecuting cases of child abuse and neglect.
“Working in that area affirmed to me that in Tasmania we live in the best place in the world. Working in child protection and social services also gave me an appreciation of the crucial role government plays in providing essential services – especially for people at risk,” he said.
It was also in the UK where he met his wife Nicky. They moved back to Tasmania and now live at Margate where they are raising their three children, William, James and Lily.
Contrary to the daily snippets of conflict and controversy seen on the news, Will Hodgman is more generous to his political foes.
“Most, if not all people who enter politics do it for the right reason.
“I’m obviously a very staunch and clearly biased Liberal fan but I get it that everyone is trying to do the best for the place we live in.”
He may be a Liberal, but rejects the conservative tag.
“I don’t like tags, but I’m often described as a moderate. I differ from my father with whom I’ve had some of my toughest political debates, for example on the republic (Michael is a staunch Monarchist).
So, if most politicians are basically good – why does he want the premiership?
“I fundamentally believe my party and team is the best equipped to get Tasmania back on its own two feet. Our philosophy provides the template to properly govern our State and our country.
“I’m proudly Tasmanian and want to see it prosper and at present we’re a long way from that.
“We miss too many opportunities. We’re top heavy and too slow to react and we’re increasingly reliant on Federal grants.
“It makes me sick to hear people interstate saying we’re a mendicant State.”
Mr Hodgman said Tasmania had to aggressively pursue economic activities and development.
“If you don’t do that then you have to be prepared to accept lower outcomes for health, education, public safety and so on.
“Self-indulgent decisions like locking up forests, stopping a pulp mill and stopping developments just mean we have less wealth in the community, less revenue and it means we will have to have longer waiting lists.
“I don’t want Tasmania to be only the nicest retirement village on the planet,” he said.
Tasmania has four-year terms but historically minority governments last, on average, just 2.5 years.
“An election could happen any time between now and March 2014 when it is due but I personally think that self-interest will be a major factor in ensuring that Labor and the Greens hang on,” Mr Hodgman said.
He said that since the election the Liberal Party had been out in the community talking and listening to people.
“More than anytime I can remember, people are happy to talk to us about the future. There are a lot of people calling for another election even though the last one was only in March 2010. There is a heightened interest in politics a lot earlier in the political cycle than we’ve experienced in the past.
“From now on it is important to show people what a Liberal Government would be like and you’ll be hearing a lot more about that this year,” he said.