Husband and father, politician, environmentalist, runner and passionate community cultivator.
James Griffin is our State member of parliament in Manly, member of the community and protector of our local environment. You might catch glimpses of him running around North Head in between his crazy work schedule or cutting his 14 month old son Ted’s hair during isolation on Instagram.
My mum and Dad commemorating soldiers Avenue in Freshwater.
How do you see your role in politics and what do you hope to achieve in your work on a day to day basis?
The role of a politician is probably a lot different to what people assume it is. When you say ‘politician’ to people, most of them think of Parliament House and grumpy old people disagreeing with one another but it’s actually far more diverse.
The most core part of the role is caring for and supporting your local community, so for instance, as the Member for Manly, I look after the electorate of Manly which stretches from North Head to Dee Why and out to Pittwater road. It takes in about 75,000 people. As the MP people come to see me about all sorts of issues. Sometimes I’m a helpdesk, other times I am delivering the Government projects in our area. We are responsible for roads, schools, police, environment, transport and the list goes on. Just check out my Instagram and you’ll get a look at everything I get up to.
As a relatively new MP, the other part of the job is to support the Minister for the Environment and the Minister for Veterans to develop and implement good public policy. Those are two areas of focus that the Premier has appointed me to.
Really, there are no two days the same in the job. During COVID it’s been busier than ever. Helping local businesses survive, dealing with health advice and ensuring the community understand what they need to do and how we, as the State Government are helping. Each day, I try to help as many people as I can, whilst at the same time focusing on the bigger picture policy initiatives.
How did you end up in politics and how has your career changed over the years?
There was no straight line into politics. I guess with both my parents having long careers in the Australian Army, I felt that the concept of ‘service’ was a good thing. And I certainly wasn’t brave enough to join the Army! We moved around every year or so. New town, new community, new faces. So nowhere really felt like home. Until we moved to Manly and mum and dad retired from the Army. Like most people, we fell in love with Manly and stayed here, that was back in 1997.
I came to really love this place and wanted to make a contribution. Politics fascinated me and I realised it was probably one of, if not the most effective way to bring about positive change. So, here I am! I contested and won the seat as a member of the Liberal Party in a high profile by-election when the previous MP retired (the Premier Mike Baird). Taking over from him was a big job, but three years later and I’m still loving it.
When I first started as an MP, it was just like starting any new job. Nervous and just really keen to do a good job. I’ll never forget the first time I walked on the floor of Parliament at the Member for Manly. It was a huge moment.
A selfie with Ms Blatchford, one of our hard working local Primary school Principals. I’m building a $40m new school at Curl Curl. She’s excited, I’m excited and so are the kids!
I’m keen to strip back James Griffin to a person with no suit, no email address and no calendar or schedule. You are still living in your usual environment and have the same people around you. How do you see your ‘Person Power’ and what do you still possess that gives you the ability to impact on the world in a positive way?
I guess I’m a ‘let’s just get this done’ type of person. I love seeing an idea get implemented. I think that drives my team and friends nuts as sometimes I’ve got too much happening all at once. But people respond well to positive energy and some initiative. There’s no shortage these days of information and content and before you know it you can waste half an afternoon scrolling through Instagram. So being able to take an idea or concept from theory and bring it to fruition is a ‘person power’ that I think I possess and gives me the opportunity to positively impact the world.
One of the many things you’re working on right now is Back Your Local. I thought it would be cool to get a bit of a rundown and hear your thoughts on the importance of community.
Back Your Local is exactly what I was meaning before about ‘let’s just get this done’. It’s an idea to help support small businesses in the Manly area as we battle through COVID. Back Your Local is a mirror held up to our community. The heart of the site is all about supporting the businesses, and the people they employ in a tough time. Often the small businesses that we all love are the ones that sponsor the local clubs and sporting organisations. They make up the fabric of Manly and it would be tragic to lose them.
What good is a beautiful part of the world and nice buildings if there is no community to enjoy it with. Manly is a particularly tight knit community. Everyone knows everyone (or at least there is only a degree or so of separation). So we need to be there for one another. The website seeks to do that. (It’s free by the way!)
What is your opinion on the importance of living a sustainable lifestyle and how do you think we can all improve the way in which we care for the natural world? How do the two go hand in hand?
One of my biggest projects this year has been to reduce plastic pollution. This is a massive priority for the NSW Government and I was really proud to have Gladys (the Premier) come to Queenscliff to announce our strategy to smash plastic pollution. It requires a way in which we think about single use plastics and also an investment in technology to re-manufacture plastic so we don’t have to keep creating plastic (which requires fossil fuel).
Sustainability is a central component of how Government and business must (and are) moving forward. It has taken a while, but there is now no disagreement that the ‘take, make, waste’ approach of the past is no longer viable. The NSW Government is investing heavily in the circular economy and I am really excited by that.
As part of my Environmental Policy work, I visit recycling facilities to see where all our rubbish ends up. When we develop Policy a lot goes into it! Even visiting the plants.
During the COVID-19 epidemic how are you approaching life both mentally
and physically? I’m keen to hear as a very busy person, lover of the outdoors, and runner how you are approaching life and adapting during a very difficult time.
Normally I’ll attend anywhere between 5 and 15 community events a week. They’ve all understandably been cancelled for the foreseeable future. So, I thought perhaps I wouldn’t be too busy and with Parliament not sitting we are in our Electorates. However, then the domino effect of COVID happened…first it was calls from businesses laying off people, then it was people losing their jobs and wondering about rent and assistance, then it was schools, then it was people wondering about shutdowns and lockdowns and on and on it has gone. So, it has been massively busy and very confronting work with people really struggling. Gotta say though, there has also been some amazing goodwill, community spirit and wonderful stories of people backing one another.
So, I try to go for my ‘mental fitness’ runs. Usually that would be with fellow Vipers, another great local initiative of men supporting men through running but now I’m just getting out as much as I can on my own.
Interestingly, my brother Tom who hasn’t been running for years is starting to get out with me a bit which is great to see.
Woman, leader, Premier. A great boss to work for. She genuinely cares about NSW and wants to do the right thing by all of us.
What is the first thing you are going to do once COVID-19 is declared over and
we are free to do what we please? Let’s finish this on a lighter note!
That’s a really, really good question. I think maybe get the family together so we can chill with my little son Ted and cousin Isla (6 months). And then I’ll have a few beers.