By Peter Douglas
Newly-endorsed Liberal candidate for Monbulk, John Schurink, believes he can win the marginal seat and create positive change for the electorate.
The Victorian Liberal Party last week officially endorsed the Sassafras Ferny Creek CFA captain, 61, as its candidate for Monbulk before the November 2018 state election.
The veteran paramedic and former CFA board member isn’t shying away from the fact it was his sacking from the board that has been the catalyst for his decision to seek pre-selection.
It was none other than his Labor rival and incumbent Monbulk MP, James Merlino, in his role as Emergency Services Minister, who sacked Mr Schurink just 15 months ago.
But Mr Schurink said although his sacking provided the impetus, there was much more to his challenging Mr Merlino at the ballot than just the CFA issue.
“I was a board member of the CFA but got sacked by Mr Merlino when we refused to sign the EBA from the United Firefighters Union,” Mr Schurink said.
“I thought I could either let that ship sail or I could stand up and do something about it.
“But while it was the catalyst – ultimately what I want to do is win the seat, which I think is achievable.
“I want to make it clear there are other issues that I’m passionate about, such as rising electricity prices and a 25 per cent rise in crime in the area.”
Mr Schurink said he would pack up his ‘mantra’ of “families, victims and volunteers” and hit the road for some extensive community consultation.
He has promised to keep an open mind and will wait until after the information-gathering process before establishing a clear platform, which he will take to the election.
Mr Schurink was appointed to the CFA board after a nomination from Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria, an organisation that has been critical of the workplace agreement for paid CFA firefighters.
There is no question of the strength of the CFA in the Monbulk electorate, and it will be a key issue among local voters.
But Mr Schurink has maintained he wasn’t approached to run for the seat – rather he sought out pre-selection, having previously been a member of the Young Liberals.
Mr Schurink stressed there were many factors in his decision.
“I’ve been an intensive care paramedic for over 27 years, as well as a long-time member of the Air Force Cadets … and this would be a great way to continue my service,” he said.
Mr Schurink lives in Ferny Creek with his wife, Betty.
The couple had three children – one son who died in a car crash, another son who is serving in the Royal Australian Navy, and a daughter.
He has four grandchildren and said he felt most at home in the hills.
“My work with the ambulance took me to places like Ballarat, Wodonga, Wangaratta, Horsham and Mt Dandenong,” he said.
“But we always loved the hills and moved back here.
“I’m really excited by this opportunity and look forward to working with the community and local community organisations.”
Meanwhile, incumbent Monbulk MP Mr Merlino said he welcomed a strong contest at next year’s election.
“I am very proud to represent Monbulk,” Mr Merlino said.
“The seat has always been a contest and I expect next year’s election will be no different.
“Our government has proven we will invest in our schools and our hospitals, create jobs for our community and build the infrastructure our state needs and I have trust in the community to see that.”
In relation to the CFA issue, Mr Merlino said community safety was paramount.
“The clear message from firefighters and senior leaders of the fire services is that that change is needed to keep Victorians safe,” Mr Merlino said.
“Everyone agrees that our outdated fire services need to be reformed and that is why we are taking the action we are.
“We want to modernise our fire services while also giving volunteers more support, more funding and more independence.”