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Future Generation: Elizabeth Lee

Emma Macdonald

Touted by psephologist Malcolm Mackerras as the ACT’s next Liberal Chief Minister, Elizabeth Lee has entered the Legislative Assembly with high expectations.

But the personable former lawyer is circumspect about her future, saying she just wants to get her head around the inner workings of ACT politics as the newly-minted member for Kurrajong.

Putting her people skills down to a passion for aerobics instruction – she knows how to enter a room and get people doing what she wants – Elizabeth may also need to take lessons from her comprehensive taekwondo study into the combative political chamber.

The eldest daughter of a Korean migrant family, the Lees moved to Australia for educational opportunities. Elizabeth graduated with a Law Degree from the ANU and has worked in both the public and private sector. Her family remains close and her father instilled in her from a young age that she would be a role model for her two younger sisters.

He told her “You’re the needle and your sisters are the thread. Wherever the needle goes, the thread will follow”. It was his way of instructing a young girl to set a good example for her sisters. Now in public life, Elizabeth will be setting an example for the people of the ACT.

Do you still get time to practice aerobics? What’s your favourite music?

Group fitness has been a big part of my life for a long time so it’ll be hard to imagine life without it! I do try to still teach classes but it’s now only about one or two per week which is very different from when I was teaching up to 12 classes a week. Sh’bam (dance-based group fitness program) has some awesome songs to really get people moving.

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What was the most surprising thing you learned about life as a politician?

That a lot of what you do is out of your control! Coming from a Law background, I have grown to expect that if you prepare and know your material and put forward a well-structured case based on evidence, an impartial adjudicator will make a decision based on merit. But it’s not like that in politics at all. So that’s been a bit of a challenge getting my head around that – acknowledging and accepting that I’ve done everything in my control, to the best of my ability, and if I don’t get the result I set out to achieve for a constituent or on a certain matter, it does not mean I haven’t done my best.

Who do you admire in the Assembly from all sides?

This is going to sound like a bit of a cop-out answer but I would have to say that as a starting point, I admire every single member in the Assembly. I know exactly how hard we’ve all worked to be where we are – not only the elected members but our families and supporters. I admire that they are standing up for what they believe in and that they are contributing in a meaningful way to our strong, democratic system, and that they are putting their hands up to serve the people of Canberra.

What is your one policy dream if you were Chief Minister for a day?

Our city was designed to be the seat of government for our country and we need to take pride in our city centre so that it is befitting of the national capital. I would love to see the city centre revitalised through proper planning, smart infrastructure and solid investment so that it can genuinely showcase how much we love and are connected to Canberra.

A celebration of our Indigenous history, our love of the bush and pride in the place where Australia connects – I would love to see these values represented in the environment of the city centre…but even Rome wasn’t built in a day!

Read the entire Future Generation series here

Photography by Martin Ollman

This article originally appeared as part of our Future Generation editorial in Magazine: Future for Winter 2017. Find out more about Magazine here

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Emma Macdonald

Emma Macdonald has been writing about Canberra and its people for more than 20 years, winning numerous awards for her journalism – including a Walkley or two – along the way. Canberra born and bred, she’s fiercely loyal to the city, tribally inner-north, and relieved the rest of the country is finally recognising Canberra’s cool and creative credentials.

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