Benjamin Law’s Dicey Topics with federal Liberal MP for Wentworth, Dave Sharma


What does it tell us that the polls got it so wrong?
There were 50-odd Newspolls that had us losing government; it wasn’t like a rogue poll. One good thing that will come out of all this, I hope, is that people pay a lot less attention to polling. It’s a crippling feature of Australian political life.

And it has made and broken prime ministers.
Exactly. And it doesn’t really matter all that much. What matters is how the government performs.

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During the election campaign, you positioned yourself as a “modern Liberal”. Why?
One of the things people said is, “We need to know more about who you are, Dave.” It was a shorthand way to say, “I’m a Liberal – and I don’t walk away from that – but I’m modern in my outlook.” I don’t think we should be hung up on ideological, stale debates. We should be addressing climate change; I think the science on that is settled. But we also need to be pragmatic and responsible and kind of consistent with market principles.

A lot of people saw “modern Liberal” and wondered, “Compared to what?”
I didn’t see it like that. [Laughs] People were running on slogans like “A Strong Voice”. People don’t say, “Well, what – as opposed to being a weak voice?”

Have you made any new friends in Parliament yet?
There’s a class of 2019. The nice thing is a person’s a person, and it was only later you might realise they’re Labor or an independent. The other thing is the incoming group has been quite diverse – more than majority female, and people from quite different professional and ethnic backgrounds.

Made any enemies yet?
No, thank heavens. [Laughs] I’m sure that will come.

DEATH

Your mother died quite young. How old were you?
I was 12, so that’s a little over 30 years ago now.

That is such a young age to lose your mum.
Yeah, and Mum was 46. She had breast cancer. She got diagnosed about a year and a half before; it was quite aggressive. She had a mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiotherapy. As you’d expect, it was quite a blow when it happened. You certainly don’t expect to lose a parent at that age. My dad didn’t expect to be widowed. My grandparents didn’t expect to lose a child. And, you know, everyone recovers – and also no one ever really recovers. My older twin sisters, in particular, would have loved my mum to be there when they got married and had their first children. Someone to talk to about all that sort of stuff. I certainly would have.

After losing her, how did you and your family speak about death? And of her?
My sisters and I still talk about my mum quite a bit. We often just share memories: “Do you remember this time?” It’s nice, because the longer it’s been, the more you forget. It gives you an appreciation for the fragility of life and how anything can happen at any time.

RELIGION

You’ve got a mixed family heritage. Does that mean a mixed religious heritage, too?
My dad is Indian ethnically, but born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago, in the Caribbean. His father was a Hindu Brahmin priest. But the best schools at the time were all Catholic, so he was notionally raised more Catholic than Hindu. My mother was Anglican, the sort of typical Scots-Irish-German mix of Australia at the time. We never had a particularly religious upbringing, but more recently I lived in Israel for four years, so I’m quite familiar with Judaism and Islam, too.

Your given name is Devanand. What does it mean?
It’s an Indian Hindu name. Apparently, it means “the great one”. [Laughs]

Your fate was predestined.
Well, my dad took the name from a Bollywood film star idol of the 1960s and ’70s, not the literal meaning!

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The flip side of faith is doubt. Do you ever doubt yourself or what you believe in?
As politicians, you’re not expected to show doubt publicly. That’s probably a good thing. People don’t want to see their leaders sort of paralysed by indecision or fear. But the great thing about politics is it’s a contest of ideas, and for that contest to play out properly, you need to be open to ideas.

What’s the meaning of life? Have you worked it out?
[Laughs] No!

Any hunches?
It’s for life to be purposeful. It isn’t about being happy.

Interesting! For a lot of people, I imagine happiness would be the core of it. Why do you say it’s not?
Chasing happiness is a bit ephemeral. If you chase it, you never find it. What people mean is more like “contentment” or “satisfaction”. That comes from living a purposeful life, and doing things that aren’t always easy: investing time in relationships; doing difficult tasks; taking on tough roles. That’s a life well lived.

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