“I think he’s worldly and he’s well educated. He’s articulate. He’s decent and he can talk to people………he’s at home in any environment. That’s why I’ve come here to support him. We need, desperately need people like this in public life”. (Alan Jones 1996)
Robert James Murray “Rob” Oakeshott has departed public life but left an indelible mark on Australian politics. Not surprisingly though it would seem there’s a dearth of candidates to replace Robert as the target of cheap shots by Shock Jocks and know-all nothing nongs the country over. Can’t be seen to put the boot into George (Senator Brandis). Can’t mercilessly flog Morrison (Immigration Minister). Can’t cowardly sledge Bishop (speaker Bronnie). No free-kick for shock jocks anymore.
“Oakeshott will be remembered for two things – a mindless, rambling 17 minute speech and deserting a conservative electorate that has been left posted by a bloke with an intellect less than that of Larry, Curly and Moe”. (Ray Hadley 2013)
If there was one topic I was 100% confident about, and always keen to debate in my decade on Talk radio it was Robert Oakeshott. I wholeheartedly agree with Alan Jones’ comments of late 1996. Rob Oakeshott is all those things and much more. The electorate was just as astute. As a National party candidate Rob grabbed almost 47% of the primary vote in the seat of Port Macquarie at the November 1996 NSW election. At the 1999 poll he was further endorsed with a 58% share of the vote. The “decent, well-educated and articulate young man” has blended, albeit slightly, into the background of the electorates (Port Macquarie and Lyne) he comprehensively and brilliantly served for almost 18 years. Although there was recent speculation (quickly doused) around the village that Rob would seek the Hastings Council (Port Macquarie council) Mayoral robes. But back to beginning of the best years. As News Editor of Radio 2MCFM/STARFM based in Port Macquarie, I received a call at home late one Saturday afternoon. It was Rob offering me the exclusive story of his plans to jump ship from the Nats and stand as an Independent at the next state election. Tricky move for most pollies (Port Macquarie was safe National party territory) but no sweat for Oakie. That’s when the “#%^ hit the fan” deluxe. How dare he the “white-shoe brigade” which dominated the local political scene, huffed and puffed. Ungrateful young pup. In the NSW poll of November 2002 the Independent candidate Rob Oakeshott “romped” it in with almost 70% of the primary vote. But the massive mandate (the Nat’s polled just 14%) failed to stop a filthy and personal campaign against him. There wasn’t a week go by when I didn’t receive an “anonymous” tip in the newsroom from some local political parasite (of whom there were many) trying to convince me Rob “was about to pull the pin” or others prepared to share damaging personal details.
It will never cease to amaze me that if Robert Oakeshott had turned his head Right instead of Left on that fateful day in 2010 his “decision” would in2014 still be hailed as one of the greatest individual contributions in recent Australian political life. And equally difficult to fathom is the man Oakeshott replaced in his move to federal politics, his old boss Mark Vaile, didn’t cop anywhere near the local backlash when he “opted out”, creating a by-election just months after being re-elected but in opposition after the Howard rout of September 2007.
While he may have gone Robert Oakeshott will never be forgotten. In fact I predict rational students of the politics of hung parliaments may in the future uphold the contribution of the”OAKESHOTT that was heard around the world”.