By Colin MacGillivray
LIBERAL candidate for McEwen Richard Welch has labelled infrastructure and mental health services as his two biggest priorities ahead of the upcoming federal election.
Mr Welch won Liberal preselection earlier this year and will challenge long-term incumbent Labor member Rob Mitchell at the election, which is likely to be called in early 2022.
Mr Welch said an entrepreneurial background and a passion for helping communities prosper made him an ideal candidate for the seat.
He is the founder and former chief executive of sports technology company PitchVision, and said the lessons he had learned in the corporate world would serve him well in politics.
“I invented and developed a new form of motion-tracking technology … that I patented and then raised capital to found a business on the basis of it,” he said.
“That was a most life-changing experience, because I suddenly became the manager of a small start-up.
“I had to go to India to build a factory to make it … and I had to navigate the Indian bureaucracy and approval systems, I had to buy land, I had to keep my stakeholders happy, I had to hire staff and I had to deal with importing all the components into India and exporting them out.
“In the process, what I saw firsthand was – because we built the factory in an impoverished area of India – how economic development can change the life of a community, and especially the women of this particular community because we employed about 180 local women.”
Mr Welch returned to Australia in 2019 with his wife Mandy and their two children, and said he began to think of how to apply the lessons he had learned running his business.
“I wanted to figure out how to put that to use and do something constructive for Australia because Australia gave me the launching pad and I wanted to pay something back,” he said.
“By happenstance the opportunity to run for [the Federal Division of] Jagajaga arose, and I thought maybe I could contribute back that way.
“At that point I had a blank slate where I could have joined any party, but it seemed to me that the Liberal Party is less prescriptive about what you must believe and it is more progressive in the sense that they believe in the potential of the individual and that technology is the way forward.
“It was a more natural fit for me, so that’s how I got involved.”
Mr Welch was defeated by Labor member Kate Thwaites in Jagajaga at the 2019 federal election but said he had learned valuable lessons from the experience.
“The big thing I learned is that in some regards the candidate is the least important part,” he said.
“The main [agenda is] set nationally, but your success is really determined by local volunteers and the local community and their ability to support or get on board with what you’re doing.
“When you run locally you can’t run some sort of presidential campaign where it’s all about the candidate – it’s actually all about the community and getting to know the community groups and getting involved and understanding the issues.
“I’m grateful that it has been a relatively early preselection because it has given me an opportunity to do that.”
Mr Welch and his family have relocated to Wallan as part of his bid to represent McEwen, which also includes the towns of Kilmore, Whittlesea, Lancefield, Romsey, Beveridge and Doreen.
He said he had enjoyed connecting with the community and getting a sense of the issues the electorate faced.
Mr Welch said his top priority would be improving the infrastructure of the region, which he described as lagging behind neighbouring electorates.
“When we say infrastructure, it’s predominantly roads and thoroughfares, but it’s also proper social infrastructure in terms of sporting facilities, community centres and other things of that nature,” he said.
“Married to that is mental health, which is a really big issue, particularly amongst youth. I think we’ve got an acute crisis in mental health and I think we’ve yet to see the worst of that.
“I don’t see these as disparate issues, I think they interrelate, and as we get more and more people in our community we’re going to exacerbate all of that. We need to address all of them.
“With some of them the plans are there or the money is there or the business case has been set. These things are there to be executed upon, we just need the impetus to push them through. Then we can build on that.”
Mr Welch acknowledged it would be difficult to unseat Mr Mitchell, who has represented McEwen since 2010, but said he would bring fresh energy and perspectives to local challenges if elected.
“If you’ve been incumbent for 10 years that gives you a great position of strength, and due credit [to Rob Mitchell], but that also gives you an obligation to follow through and get things done,” he said.
“Incumbency also means accountability. You can’t hide behind anything because you’ve got a Labor State Government and you’ve got Labor-leaning councils in a lot of cases.
“What I can bring is energy and hunger. I come from a quite different background where it’s all about the potential of things and the possibilities of things.
“McEwen is a place that’s got talent, it’s got economic resources, it’s got people and it’s got potential.”
Mr Welch described his philosophy as ‘moderate and forward-thinking’.
He said he supported a business-led approach to federal issues such as a net-zero carbon emissions target by 2050.
“I think it’s fantastic, and I think the approach we’re taking is absolutely the right approach, and that is technology, not taxes,” he said.
“You can’t tax your way to prosperity and you certainly can’t tax your way to a clean environment. If you don’t allow businesses and companies to innovate and give them the room to develop economically, you’re not going to get technological advances.
“There is a great example in Beveridge where they’re trying to do geothermal [energy] on a scale never done before in Australia.
“It’s new technology and … with the policy we’ve adopted, it creates an impetus for us to set better conditions in energy policy and innovation. I’m excited and I think it’s absolutely terrific.”