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Patrick is currently an Australian Labor Party representative to the Division of Perth. His passion for public policy led him to work in senior roles with Kevin Rudd as Foreign Minister and Prime Minister, and he also later served as the WA Labor State Secretary.

But Patrick’s first taste of being a political leader was being the Curtin Student Guild President in 2005. Having had an early, strong, political influence from his father—who was a head teacher and a part of the Labor Party—Patrick fell into his role as Guild President with ease.

Grok spoke to Patrick about his time at Curtin, how working with the Guild helped him succeed in politics and his advice to students aspiring to work in politics.

By Daryna Zadvirna

So, when did you enrol at Curtin and what did you study?
I enrolled in 2003 and did a double degree in Social Science and Communications, specialising in film and television. But eventually—in part thanks to my student activism—I dropped out of the film and television component.

Tell me a little bit about your time as a student and how did you end up joining the Guild?
Well, maybe in my first month of uni, there was someone handing out flyers about a student protest—something vaguely to do with university fee increases. So, I took a flyer from that person and they turned out to be former Guild president, Zaneta Mascarenhas. I was already a member of the Labor Party, so I was reasonably socially active on progressive causes. But she talked me through what was happening at the university campus, and I'm actually really glad that I took her flyer because she became an incredibly good friend of mine.

So, did you run for President after that or did you join the Guild Council first?
Yeah so, I filled in a spot on the Guild Council in 2003 first, cause someone had quit and then I became the Humanities Divisional Representative in 2004, and then I ran for Guild President in 2005.

I know you fought against the HECS fees raise, but what were some of the other challenges students were facing back then? How did you try tackle them as Guild President?
Well some of the things are actually still challenges to this day. We were discussing course closures and there was a large course review that happened that had potentially a quite a good outcome in terms of preventing the loss of some of the—what were deemed to be—expensive courses. There were discussion around the merger with Murdoch University, which was while I was on the Council, right up to when I was President. And that was really interesting and challenging in terms of the positives and the negatives. There was the challenge of safety on campus, we had a number of students being assaulted or mugged on campus, so we did a large number of works around that. I mean we also had conversations around things like the safety of women, appropriate student behaviour, things like handling alcohol fuelled events. And on the internal side of the Guild, we did a quite a bit of heavy restructuring of the finances, and restructuring the position of the Guild, knowing that we were likely to be heading into a environment of voluntary amenities and services fees. We had to do quite a large reduction binge, I think that even involved fewer editions of Grok from 10 to then 8—not sure, what it is now?

You'd be disappointed to know that it's actually only two per semester now...
Oh no, that breaks my heart!

So, in contrast, what would you say are the biggest issues students face today? What's changed, and what hasn't?
I think one of them is the immediate and long-term impact of the cost of living. I use “students” as a very broad category—it's not just straight out of high school undergraduates, it's students who might come to university later in life. And then there's also the impact of having quite a large university debt. My brother is currently a student at the University of Western Australia, studying zoology. His HECS fees are more than double of what mine were when I was a student, just over a decade ago—I find that completely unacceptable.

I guess the other question is quality of education. I suppose that's in terms of making sure everyone who applied was able to get a place at university, because we do benefit from having a diversity of students at university. I guess it's ensuring that academics who secured Teniers develop quality courses, actually engage with industries, make sure what they're teaching is relevant, and are actually being honest with students about job opportunities.

So, they're probably the main two challenges, but I would also have to admit that I've not been a student for a long time. I did my Masters quite a few years ago so, you know—I don't know everything!

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Were you always interested in politics, or did being Guild president sort of give you the first taste of being in politics?
Yeah well, my dad was a teacher in Fremantle and was active in the Labor Party. That was when I probably—as a child—got the first bite of politics. I always had a very strong feel for social justice, so I think it was natural that in my university years I was going to do something like that. I just want to say, I've learned so much from being able to be part of the Student Guild, running for President, running a 13-million-dollar organisation. I learned to deal with some of the brightest people in Australia, in terms of the academic community, and how to deal with people with different views in a political context. I was also very lucky with my education Vice President, Rikki Hendon, who’s now the Secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union.

We actually interviewed Rikki a few months ago and she spoke very fondly of you!
Really? Well, right back at you Rikki! And I was very lucky to have Zaneta, who I have a longstanding friendship with. She has a one-year-old boy and so do I, so they catch up over playdates while we reminisce. And with Rikki, I’m so glad she could fulfil her ambition and … they’re really lucky to have her. But she is also one of my favourite constituents in the electorate of Perth!

As well as a former Guild President, you’re probably among the most successful Curtin alumni in politics. What do you attribute your success to?
I definitely don’t feel like I’m one of the most successful Curtin alumni, but I’m a very proud Curtin alumni. I loved my time at uni, it helped me greatly because you meet so many different, great people, and the experiences you acquire—you never know when you’re going to draw on them. For example, I visited a number of mosques in the Perth area in the wake of the Christchurch attack, and I talked to people about my experience dealing with the Curtin University Muslim Students Association—so that experience I’m very grateful for. I’m also grateful for the experience of dealing with people arguing over things that are, you know, everything when you’re a student, but probably nothing in the big scheme of things. It’s good because overtime you learn about perspective. In terms of the things I wanted to do in life, serving the Federal Parliament was one of those ambitions, and I’m very grateful for that and the West Australian education I received.

Lastly, do you have any advice for students and Guild members who aspire to become involved and work in politics?
My advice is get involved—don’t just aspire to get involved, actually go and do things like join a political party or volunteer in a campaign. For example, one of my great recruits came to work for me three months ago for the Perth election campaign we've just been through. She was fresh out of university, Curtin graduate, Belinda, and she wanted to be actively involved in politics and just sort of put her hand up. I think there's so many opportunities like that to get politically active. It’s not just working for a political party or working for members of Parliament, it’s also through unions, or issue lobby groups. You should take on some sort of personal ethicacy, or even advocate to people like myself something that you think is worth doing or changing.