Bill Tilley on the political beat

A decade as a Liberal MP has Bill Tilley reflecting on political highs and lows and the good fortune that landed him in the Wodonga property market. Picture: ELENOR TEDENBORG
A decade as a Liberal MP has Bill Tilley reflecting on political highs and lows and the good fortune that landed him in the Wodonga property market. Picture: ELENOR TEDENBORG

SPEAKING to Bill Tilley you soon realise although he may have left policing for politics 10 years ago the imprint of law enforcement remains strong.

An array of references to his station days littered an hour-long interview with The Border Mail at his Wodonga office to mark his decade as a Liberal MP.

"There's literally thousands of people I've been able to help with problems,” Mr Tilley said.

"They're the things that drive me.

"It's like working the watch-house of a police station, when you have those little wins and you help people out it's a really good feel.”

It was witnessing youth crime, family breakdowns, mental health woes and the impact of drugs – “the worst parts of society” – that led him to join the Liberals in 2002.

On November 25, 2006, after defeating former Wodonga mayor Lisa Mahood (Labor) and long-serving Upper House MP Bill Baxter (Nationals), Mr Tilley became the third Liberal MP for Benambra.

"I sat in my car in High Street and went f... we've pulled it off,” Mr Tilley said of his reaction after an election night party at Wodonga’s Cafe Grove.

Realising he needed political nous, the former soldier “poached” Liberal MP Sussan Ley’s office manager Tracey Holmes with a phone call two days later.

"I've got to say it might be my name on the window out there, but Tracey and I have been a team,” Mr Tilley said.

"She's in the office and she delivers.

"Leadership is not only who's upfront, but it's the people you put around you."

It was people around Mr Tilley at the time of Simon Overland’s tenure as Victoria’s police commissioner that led to his biggest disappointment in politics.

The then corruption watchdog investigated Mr Tilley after he met with Tristan Weston, an adviser to then Police Minister Peter Ryan, and assistant police commissioner Sir Ken Jones.

At the time Mr Tilley was the parliamentary secretary for police and it was claimed he was acting without Mr Ryan’s knowledge.

In the end Mr Tilley lost his secretaryship.  

"I stood my ground, I have a very, very strong sense of justice, I won't let go of that,” Mr Tilley said.

"I've said very openly when I finish with politics I'll have my swag and my cook box and my dignity, none of it is for trade.”

Left in opposition after the election of Labor premier Daniel Andrews in 2014, Mr Tilley turned to the first Liberal member for Benambra.  

"I took advice from Lou Lieberman after the election and he gave me some really good strong, sound advice,” Mr Tilley said.

It amounted to a shadow ministry requiring much time away from the electorate and Mr Tilley’s belief he wanted to “put all my energy into the area and do good things for the area”.

That does not mean Mr Tilley has given up on being a minister if Liberal leader Matthew Guy is elected premier in 2018.

"If he invites me to his cabinet I would relish the opportunity,” Mr Tilley said.

"Who knows what the make-up of a government might be, I'm not hunting it down.

"I think I would do a good job in cabinet, that's not being arrogant but if I had the freedom to put good people around me I think we could do a lot of good in whatever portfolio could be potentially extended.”

At the same time, Mr Tilley realises he’s not the typical Liberal blueblood and that may restrict his appeal among the hierarchy.

"I'm not the political class so to speak and I don't speak that political speak,” he said.

Regardless, Mr Tilley, whose decade as an MP has seen him in government for four years and opposition for six is keen to stay.

He reels off projects from Corryong to Falls Creek to Wodonga that he would like realised.

He has learnt little is quick in politics.

"You've got to have a lot of letters, a lot of conversations and it's massaging and convincing people that these are things that are needed,” Mr Tilley said.

"Everybody thinks it's not rocket science, but let me assure you it's a blood sport, it's a hard game.

"You talk to the community and they say 'aw look Billy you walk in there and you get it fixed', it's not like that.”

Asked to cite his biggest success, Mr Tilley nominates the opening of mental health beds in Jarrah Street, Wodonga, relating the need back to his police days.

"As a policeman we would be driving to Kerferd (Clinic in Wangaratta) every other night, we would be driving to Bendigo taking the divisional van,” Mr Tilley said.

"These stories haven't made the paper, the number of times this town has been left without a police resource apart from the sergeant and the watch-house keeper because the divisional van's 70 kilometres or 150 kilometres away taking some bloke who's gone off tap or a woman who needs significant intervention.

"That was one of the shocking things."

Mr Tilley’s decade in Spring Street has coincided with the rise of social media.

He began using Twitter in 2013 but has contempt for those who hide.

"I despise cowards that sit behind a poisonous keyboard with an assumed name and make some of the statements they do,” Mr Tilley said.

"Be a man or a strong woman and say what you think, but put your name on it.”

Mr Tilley does not disguise his view on the Wangaratta-raised Mr Andrews.

"He's no more country than I am, I've lived in a lot of places," Mr Tilley said.

"I like the idea of country lifestyle and the bush and primary production, whereas Daniel had a small exposure to the area and then left and hasn't really come back.

"To make those claims is a little bit disingenuous to come up here and say you're a country boy, when you're not.

"We know he's hard left socialist."

Mr Tilley’s political views were shaped during his period in the army, which saw him provide a motorcycle escort to then Labor defence minister Kim Beazley.

"When I was in the army in the early 80s there was Labor governments and we were struggling to get the resources for training,” Mr Tilley said.

Being a regional Victorian MP away from the Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo ring, Mr Tilley realises constituents can be frustrated at differences but he deflects responsibility.

"This catchment is as big as Bendigo with population, but the state departments, the bureaucracy, see us as two separate entities,” he said.

"That is sad, two governments that are dividing and trying to duplicate.

"We need to find savings in the way we deliver services to our communities.”

Mr Tilley himself took a rare route to finding the savings for a Wodonga life. 

"When I first moved to the district I rented here - bought a house in Albury - but moved back here very quickly when I won second division in lotto,” he said.

"It wasn't much, it was $11,000.

"I went and saw (lotteries agent) John Mahony and he went 'aw Billy it's only $11,000', but better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick."