Benjamin Law’s Dicey Topics with shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers


Have you had assurances your dad’s voted for you?
Well, I know my mum has. I dare not ask my dad. I suspect he does. [Laughs]

You were Wayne Swan’s chief adviser when you met your partner, Laura, who was Penny Wong’s adviser. So now you’re part of a very political family.
Yes, we properly met around the 2010 election. People joked that one of the only good things to come out of that election was us: a family with three kids now.

Speaking of bad elections for Labor, did the results at the last one catch you off-guard?
It probably wasn’t quite as big as a surprise for me as people might assume. It was obviously horribly disappointing. You don’t get into politics to spend nine years in opposition, and I’ve never been a member of a government. It’s devastating from that point of view.

What does the result tell you?
Clearly we don’t have a big enough constituency for some of the things we wanted to do. We need to get better at making the case for it.

Any non-Labor politicians you rate?
Uh, yes …

Uh, any in particular?
[Laughs] I was trying to get away with not saying! Look, I don’t think Josh Frydenberg is a bad person, though I disagree with him on heaps of stuff. I’ve spent time with Christian Porter. There’s enough grief, angst and combat in politics – you don’t need to seek it out.

Any parliamentarians you actively avoid?
To be frank, I don’t think much of the Prime Minister. I don’t like the divisive way Peter Dutton plays politics. I’m not rude when I run into them in the corridors, but I don’t admire how they go about their politics.

RELIGION

Do have religion in your life?
I’m Catholic. Tribal Catholic, not Bible Catholic.

What do you mean by that?
I still identify as a Catholic. I’m about to have kid number three baptised in the same Catholic church I was baptised in, around the corner from my place. But I don’t reflect on it a lot, and I’m not in the business of trying to convert people. [Laughs] I go to church as part of my local responsibilities, or for baptisms and weddings, but not every Sunday. And obviously, I’ve been heartbreakingly disappointed at some of the revelations out of the Catholic Church.

How have Catholics like you been reconciling or wrestling with those revelations?
There’s no reconciling it. It’s a disgrace. It’s horrific. I feel for the victims, first and foremost, but also for parishioners whose faith has been tarnished by the behaviour of some church leaders in positions of trust. There’s a lot of anger and I share that.

Do you pray? Do you believe in God?
I don’t pray. [Long pause] I don’t know if I believe in God. But I represent a multicultural area around Logan City. We’ve got Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, all the Indian faiths. So I really admire the power of religion to bring people together. There’s a positive role for it to play in communities like mine.

The flipside of faith is doubt. Do you ever doubt yourself?
Everyone has moments of self-doubt. You wonder from time to time whether you’re impacting the most people you can in a positive way, particularly after the election result we had. You do wonder sometimes whether you’re doing the most with your opportunities. Yeah, I have moments of self-doubt.

Which of the Ten Commandments are you most prone to breaking?
Thou shalt remember the Ten Commandments!

SEX

Were you adequately educated about sex by the time you started having it?
[Laughs] I don’t think anybody feels they’re equipped.

If you could get in a time machine and talk to a young Jim Chalmers about sex, what would you tell him?
I have no idea …

It sounds like you’re still not equipped!
That may be true.

How do you maintain a healthy romantic and sex life when you’re also a time-poor politician?
[Pauses] This is where I’m really starting to regret this, Ben! [Laughs] You have to make your relationships a priority – with your partner, and with your family more broadly. That’s not impossible.

Is sex appeal a prerequisite to success in politics?
Hopefully not. [Laughs] One the longest-serving politicians of my lifetime was John Howard.
People judge politicians – thankfully, in my case – on other criteria.

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