A mammoth preselection battle taught a younger Christopher Pyne a lesson he’s never forgotten throughout his political life: the importance of having a thick skin.
“In a business where so many people choose to play the man rather than the ball you need a resolute mind and a hide like a rhino,” he told Liberal Party members in the early 1990s.
The now 48-year-old education minister says nothing during his two decades in parliament has been as tough as that 14-month fight to get to Canberra.
“When the Labor Party’s attacking me about stuff in politics … I have very often thought to myself `They think this is tough, they should have gone for the preselection in Sturt’,” he told the National Press Club on Thursday.
Mr Pyne writes about the formative preselection battle in his new book, part memoir and part homage to his father, A Letter to My Children.
His eye-surgeon father, Remington Pyne, died aged 59 and his father before him at the age of 62, giving the young Mr Pyne a sense of urgency in life.
Now, he says, he realises the hurry to get things done – including entering parliament – was probably a youthful, immature response, but one he’s happy to have made because it’s allowed him to dedicate a life to public service.
A Letter to My Children discusses why he chose a path of public service and the values Remington Pyne instilled in him, including perseverance, resilience, patience and energy.
He also talks about the difficulty of public life and the stress it places on families.
Being away from his wife and four children is the hardest part of the job – and that’s something he wants to see change for future MPs.
“We don’t (want to) make it so difficult for people to be in politics who have families that we end up with a parliament that only represents a particular kind of person,” he said on Thursday.
“We do want to have women with children and men with families and single people and couples without children.”
It’s for that reason he defended taxpayer-funded family reunions during the recent “orgy of hatred” over politicians entitlements.
“We need to guard against this obsession with attacking and hating politicians,” he says.
Mr Pyne acknowledges mistakes made along the way.
They include the frank admission to John Howard that he, a junior backbencher, thought Mr Howard had had his go, and didn’t have Mr Pyne’s support in his 1995 leadership tilt.
“I thought it was very clever at the time and I went home to my household, which was Steele Hall, Robert Hill and David Jull and told them this and they all fell about laughing – no one does that,” Mr Pyne said on Thursday.
“Nine years (on the backbench) later, I think I’d learnt my lesson.”