As the city ramps up efforts to help the less fortunate, politician Sue Hickey has placed herself firmly in the centre of the debate. Not one to shy away from controversy or hard work, we discovered what has shaped Sue’s drive and determination to help.
Some readers might not know but you were Miss Tasmania. Did that shape your interest in public life?
With reflection, it was a blessing I didn’t understand at the time. Everywhere the Premier or Lord Mayor went, Miss Tasmania was expected to go. Having that experience gave me a lot of confidence and poise and all of those things you need for public life. I’m still opening flower shows all these years later! That started my interest in the not-for-profit sector and being aware of people, who for no fault of their own, were suffering disability and disadvantage.
You’re not scared of hard work. Is that born from 30 years as a small business owner?
Definitely. Also from having hardworking parents. We were raised that if we wanted anything in life we had to work for it. So from the age of 15 I was working at the very first Kmart in Tasmania. It instills a lot of things – discipline, working in a team and responsibility. I don’t think hard work hurts anybody. In fact, I rarely have any time off. I read something that said, ‘the time you choose to waste is not waste of time’. I have to actually enforce that for myself, otherwise I’d be going 24 hours a day.
You were Telstra Business Woman of the Year in 2007 and completed your MBA in 2012. What advice do you have for people carving out their careers or creating a business at the moment?
Never stop learning. Never assume you know everything. Try and find yourself a mentor when you need it and put in. Anyone who thinks you can just cruise through small business is kidding themselves. When I started out, there’d been many a times I was working through the night. I have one daughter but she might be sick in the office, and I’d still be banging away quotes at 3am in the morning. That’s what I had to do to survive because I couldn’t afford stuff. I was the cleaning lady, did the quotes, sold the goods, packed the items.
You created the business, Slick Promotions?
Yes. With $1,000 borrowed off my father. 26 years later I had to sell it to go into Parliament. It was a really good career and I learnt an awful lot about management which I didn’t have when I went into it.W hen I finally could afford the time off, I did the company director’s course. And then I had always wanted to go to uni. I was going to run for parliament and found that I couldn’t do it. So I thought, well, I’m not going to waste the next four years feeling sorry for myself. I’ll make sure I’m the best qualified politician I can be! I loved it. I learned a lot of different ways of thinking. Suddenly I had this expanded bureaucratic understanding. I decided to run for Hobart City Council and the MBA was so beneficial to being able to understand the high-level thoughts.
You spent four years as Lord Mayor of Hobart. What are you most proud of there?
Changing the governance. It was critical to me that we had full accountability of what the Alderman were costing, that we had strict rules around behaviour and things we were doing. I had pet projects – I loved to see the rollout of solar panels, energy saving mechanisms, the beautiful parks we were creating, and the toilets. The toilets became an absolute passion because some of them were the most hideous things I’ve ever seen! I used to say to the staff who built the parks and the footpaths, ‘one day you’ll be proud, you’d be able to bring in children past this and say, dad built this’. And that’s what I do now. I go around and have a secret little chuff. People always referred to ‘my’ toilets at Salamanca, which is very funny because one day when we were about to open them, I was standing outside – I had my pearls on and pink pair of gloves and a toilet brush for a photo shoot. A tourist said, ‘the third one is a bit dirty’. I said, ‘no worries, I’ll go and fix it right now!’
How did it feel when you took your seat in the Speaker’s Chair?
That’s a day that was very surreal. It was my first day in Parliament. I didn’t know where the toilets were! All my life I’ve stepped up to an opportunity. When I look at my path, although it was never intentional, one opportunity would lead to another and each one enhanced my skillset. So whilst I know it was a shock for a lot of people and people want to attach some mischievous meanings to what happened, I think it’s a bit of divine intervention because I’ve landed in space where I can help contribute to a better Tasmania. I suffered quite a bit of abuse for the first six months. People wanted to call me a ‘traitor’ and ‘the rogue speaker’. I think now that I’m earning a bit of respect, they can see that sometimes having an independent speaker might be healthy. Once you’re a member of a party, they have a caucus and they’re bound by whatever the majority is. I’m not restricted by that now. I stood for Parliament to make a difference and as the member for Clark I intend to.