Woodridge—together with surrounding suburbs on the southern fringes of Brisbane—has long had a reputation as one of southern Queensland’s most disadvantaged communities, popularly characterised as low socioeconomic, high crime, high unemployment locations. But according to Desley Scott, member for the seat of Woodridge in Queensland’s State Parliament, both politics and Woodridge are ideal arenas in which a Christian can work. “I’m a member of the Labor party, and the Labor government in Queensland,” she says “and that fits quite well with my personal feelings of social justice.”
After working as secretary to the local member for 16 years, Desley says she has a good understanding of the issues in the community, which has allowed her to focus on the social welfare aspect of her position, while actively living her Christian principles.
“A lot of the work is with people who come in with fairly complex issues. You’re dealing with quite heart-rending problems that many people have. Of course you can’t always fix everyone’s problem, but you can help to lift their lives a little. Some just have tragic circumstances to deal with.” Even so, she says, “I’m working in an area I really enjoy.”
Desley hesitantly accepted the Labor nomination four years ago. At 57, the offer came at a time when many of her friends were retiring and easing into a slower-paced lifestyle. The prospect of a brand new, high-profile career at that age was daunting. Through her experience in the area, Desley was not unaware of what the job entailed.
Her greatest cause for hesitation came from knowing that “being an MP is a huge commitment. You look at all the things that you’re presently doing and just wonder where all of that will fit into this vast change in lifestyle. I think [also] there’s a certain lack of independence about where you go and what you do.” Even so, she says, the rewards have outweighed any doubts or concerns she had.
Listening to Desley speak about her electorate, it is clear that she’s passionate about her job. In the short time she’s been the Woodridge representative, she’s been involved in social issues–driven projects specific to the area. She mentions high unemployment and single-parent families as issues, and youth—areas she’s attempted to mitigate.
She’s enthusiastic about one project that’s resulted in improved community access to continuing education.
“One of our high schools, which had a diminished number of students, had some spare rooms. We started this school to re-engage and give a second chance to young people who’d either fallen out of school or had been told to leave because of bad behaviour. It also attracted mothers who’d decided to go back and restart their education, then move on to TAFE or university.”
The school now graduates almost 700 students with either Year 10 or Year 12 Certificates.
Encouraging community involvement in the improvement of the area is a priority. She believes that unless the people who live there get involved and actively participate in community events and projects, they will never develop the sense of ownership and pride in their environment necessary for healthful living. She says this is particularly true for the youth in the area.
“Just recently, a YMCA called ‘The Shed’ began a program called ‘U-Turn,’ where car mechanics, youth and indigenous workers take on up to 10 young offenders who’ve been stealing cars. They work together on two vehicles written off by insurance companies. When those vehicles are completed, they’re given to two victims who’ve had their cars stolen from them—but had no insurance. We had one of those ‘car gift’ events the other day; it was just fantastic, because those young men were able to see the grief they’d caused and appreciate what they’d done. Those kids are really having their lives turned around.”
Despite the need for such programs, the area has seen the opening of a number of new centres of worship, including a Buddhist temple, an Islamic mosque, a Romanian Pentecostal church, a Samoan Seventh-day Adventist church, and a multicultural Uniting church. (Desley is herself a practising Seventh-day Adventist, and attends church regularly.) She sees this as evidence of a spirituality in the community. “You won’t start a meeting in an indigenous community without a prayer,” she says. “I think some of our schools also, at the beginning of their assembly meetings, have a prayer. I think this is nice.”
Cultural intelligence and sensitivity is particularly important in a community as diverse as Woodridge. Desley says she believes there is a responsibility on community members to care for each other and newcomers. She mentions a women’s health centre that helps immigrant women understand the need for health checks as an example.
She also mentions a police service that helps refugees adjust to the presence of a non-threatening police force, showing that they’re friendly and there to help. “Some refugees come from countries where they fear the police, and if a police car were to stop them, they would be in fear for their lives,” Desley points out.
This desire for community harmony isn’t unique. Desley says it’s her feeling that “all” MPs “work hard” to achieve this goal. And while there are a number of practising Christians in the Queensland Parliament, even those who are not bring with them strong values.
Regardless of any religious inclinations, certain qualities are essential, Desley believes, to not only performing well in her job but in dealing with others in general. These include “listening with empathy” and with “personal integrity and authenticity”—“just being genuine with people; listening and trying to have an understanding of where they’re coming from.”
Belying Woodridge’s often questionable reputation, Deslie believes in her constituents. “It’s a wonderful place with wonderful people.” “They’re good people who feel like the wealthiest people in the world, and it’s got nothing to do with money. They’re not on a treadmill for wealth and a better house or a better car; they’re perfectly at ease with their community and they’re more focused on people than things. And that’s a healthy way for a community to be… . It’s a very good place for a person with a Christian ethic to work.”