We sat down with local MP Gurmesh Singh and had a chat about his background and his life here on the Coffs Coast.
Hey Gurmesh. Tell us about your relationship with the Coffs Coast.
My family settled in this area permanently around 1950. My father and grandfather have grown bananas and macadamias here since. When I finished school in the year 2000, I thought I’d leave and never come back. But with a little bit more maturity, I saw that there is no place like the Coffs Coast – especially to raise a family, so my wife and I moved back home in 2009.
You have spent most of your life here on the Coffs Coast, but there was a time where you lived in the Eastern Suburbs of the big smoke to study. What did your time in Sydney teach you?
Coming from a town of about 3,000 people, and a small regional city like Coffs, moving to Sydney was a huge shock to the system. Sydney is a 24-hour global city, and living in a college with students from all over the country (and a few from overseas) meant I got exposure to many different ways of life. I’m sure that living in Sydney and working in advertising after graduation made me a much more pragmatic, tolerant and open person – live and let live.
What did you study down in Sydney, and what were you picturing your career might be at that point in time?
I studied Industrial Design at UNSW and wanted to design cars. The degree is a mixture of pure design and art, engineering, science, and marketing – so it offers broad career prospects afterwards because you learn about so many varied fields. I ended up in marketing and advertising and eventually put some of my design skills to use as a designer later on.
When did you first become interested in politics?
When I was at uni, I worked part-time at a newsagency and would read every paper cover to cover nearly every day. This was when I developed an interest in politics. In 2015, I was appointed to a Ministerial Advisory Committee, and this got me interested in State Politics, more specifically.
What made you decide to move that way and get involved in politics yourself?
When Andrew Fraser announced his retirement last year, a number of people encouraged me to run for preselection. Our youngest son was born right around that time, so I was initially a little hesitant. But, I thought I’d give it a go – I didn’t want to live with the regret of not giving it a go.
What have you learnt about the Coffs Coast and its community over the past year?
The biggest thing I’ve learnt is just how big this place is and that there are so many great people doing great things here on the Coffs Coast. There are so many groups, organisations, and businesses working away behind the scenes making a difference in so many different ways.
When you’re not at work, you are often found on the football field or on a mountain bike! Where did the love of mountain biking come from?
When I moved back here from Sydney, I was working in Sawtell and took up road cycling. But when I started working on the farm, it was harder to get on the road bike, so I bought myself a mountain bike – convinced a few friends to do the same, and we started having some social rides.
Woolgoolga has some great single-track only a few minutes ride from my house, so it was easy to get out for an hour after work.
I haven’t been able to ride very much over the last year, though. Hopefully this summer I’ll be able to squeeze in some more rides.
You have spent a fair bit of time working here on the Coffs Coast in the blueberry industry; can you tell us about your experience there?
Our family farm grows macadamia nuts and blueberries, and I was the chairman of Oz Group Co-op – a 100% Australian Farmer-owned co-op based in the old Bunnings building in South Coffs. The Co-op is quite a large business (they will turn over $150m this year), and it was a great experience writing the constitution of the Co-op, building the team, and working with some fantastic people along the way.
The industry is not without its issues, but I was very proud of my time there and the steps we took to clean up rogue operators. The industry is a big industry and is very important to the economy of the Coffs Coast and does far more good than it is given credit for.
Can you tell us about what an average day is like for you? What’s a part of your daily routine you couldn’t go without?
My day always starts with a double espresso – sometimes a triple, if the baby has had a rough night. I’m usually in the office about 7:30 am to catch up on emails, and then every day is different from there. They’re usually a mix of meeting people in the office and heading out to see different groups, organisations, or businesses.
We are in Sydney about 20 – 22 sitting weeks, and the average sitting day starts with me coming into Parliament House about 7 am. Usually, the first meeting is set for 8 am. We will be in and out of the chamber all day depending on the schedule, but we can’t leave parliament house until the house rises – this can be any time between 7 pm and after midnight.
Being a politician is something that can take up a lot of your time. How do you find a balance between work, family life and social life?
It’s an unfortunate fact of the job that it takes up a lot of time, and I have been very busy early in the term, making sure I am available. And I haven’t been very good at striking a good work/life balance – but I’m hoping that as the weather warms up, and with daylight saving just around the corner, I’ll be able to take more time out for family and exercise.