For a man who works in politics, a world that thrives on gossip, ego and power plays, Scott Buchholz is surprisingly – and refreshingly – direct.
He’s a no-nonsense bloke; a man who says it like it is.
But he’s also warm and sociable – his greetings are often delivered with a giant bear hug.
Parliamentary insiders believe it’s these qualities that prompted Prime Minister Tony Abbott to elevate the Member for Wright to the job of Chief Whip, replacing Philip Ruddock and his 40 years of parliamentary experience.
“I’m not a game player,” Buchholz says.
“I’m fully cognisant of the work I do; there is no greater honour than to stand on the floor of Australian Parliament and deliver a robust speech on behalf of the people you represent and hopefully influence the direction of the country.
“I will do it to the best of my ability but there will come a day when the privilege will no longer sit with me.”
Scott Buchholz is notoriously private.
His Wright electorate covers a sprawling 7589 square kilometres, and includes the farming communities of the Lockyer and Fassifern Valleys, Tamborine Mountain and the Gold Coast hinterland.
He rarely accepts interview requests from the Canberra press pack, even though he counts many as friends.
He prefers to focus on his constituents and their issues.
“I don’t seek media, that’s not what drives me,” he says.
“I prefer to invest my time assisting those in my electorate … that’s where I find better return on investment.”
In the wake of Tony Abbott’s surprise decision to dump parliament’s ‘grandfather of the house’ Philip Ruddock, the media have been calling – they want to know what makes Buchholz tick.
Those who know him well will say what you see is what you get. He calls people champ, loves a beer and is an avid sportsman.
He grew up in the same street as QLD Senator Barry O’Sullivan.
“He used to bash us up,” jokes Mr Buchholz.
“He thought he was the tough kid.”
He’s direct, sometimes too direct – as Barnaby Joyce’s children will attest.
The night they were reprimanded by their father’s then chief of staff is now parliamentary folklore.
Buchholz still chuckles as he retells the story all these years on: “The house was full of kids, they were playing up.
“The kids had been asked to go to bed, please go to bed. There’d been about eight requests to go and they weren’t taking a scrap of notice, in fact things were escalating.
“So I slammed both my hands on the table and yelled, ‘You heard the lady, go to bed!’
“Two of them started crying but they scattered instantly like rats. “
It’s safe to say the country’s new chief whip won’t be a pushover.
“The predominant role of the whip is to keep the PM’s office abreast of the mood of the backbench,’ Buchholz explains.
“There’s an enormous amount of pastoral care that goes into the position. When you’re away from your family for half the year there are inadvertently issues members need to discuss in absolute confidence, for guidance, for counsel and sometimes just to let somebody else know what is going on.”
Buchholz lives on 20ha outside of Boonah with his English-born wife, Lynn, who is even more private than her husband. She’s been to Parliament just twice in his time as MP – once to hear his maiden speech and the second time for the Queen’s visit to Canberra.
Their daughter Grace, 19, is studying at university but returns home regularly.
Aside from his constituents, Buchholz says family is his priority.
“I was born into a very humble family in Rockhampton; we had very little,” he explains.
“My dad died when I was eight and my mum bought us up. She was a midwife and it was a tough gig. There’s not one week that goes by when I don’t speak to my brother and at least one of my two sisters. We’re all very tight, that’s the gift dad gave us – the strong unit of family.
“Now my whole life is about my wife and my daughter.”
Buchholz’s mum, Veronica, was a lifelong Labor voter but the MP jokes now his mum is living in his electorate she’s been convinced to change allegiances.
After school Buchholz accepted a mate’s offer to go mustering and during the next nine months learned the meaning of hard work.
“They took my watch off me and said you evaluate time by when the sun comes up and when it goes down. That work ethic sticks with me today – I have early starts and work until late.”
He concedes that family time is often sacrificed for the demands of the job, which sees him rack up thousands of kilometres as he drives across his electorate, which features large-scale commercial farms, boutique food producers, tourism businesses and small business operators.
Buchholz’s newest gig, starts Monday, and will mean more hours away from family.
But it’s a sacrifice he’s willing to make for both his country and for a Prime Minister who he believes is a good, warm and often-misunderstood man.
“If you don’t like Tony Abbott from afar don’t ever meet him because once you meet him you’ll say ‘Why don’t I see this bloke on telly?’” says Mr Buchholz.
“You’ll be instantly drawn to him, he’s very warm.”
To make his case Buchholz recalls how this week, after a visit to the site of Queensland’s first children’s hospice, Hummingbird House, Abbott surprised his colleagues and security detail.
“I get to see who he is,” says Buchholz.
“After he had finished at Hummingbird House he was heading to the car and there was a crowd of security and staff around him. Margie was going to the second car and Tony said ‘Stop Stop.’ Everyone backed away and he went around gave Margie a hug and said ‘Goodbye Angel, see you in a week.’”
Initially Buchholz didn’t want that story to be published but when pushed he agreed saying, ‘Don’t make me look like a sook though.’
Buchholz jokes that his has been an accidental political career.
It all began with an invitation from a work colleague to attend a midweek party shortly after he moved to Emerald.
Keen to meet people he arrived with a carton of beer and quickly discovered he was in fact at the AGM of the local Young National Party.
“Walking in with a carton of beer meant I was gladly welcomed and was elevated to the role of branch chairman with little or no understanding of what I was to do.”
Buchholz says over the next three years, the branch went onto enjoy the highest percentage increase in membership of any QLD National Party branch.
Buchholz and brother Glenn later ran a transport company and says his most important business lesson came when he lost a $1million transport contract.
“I was arrogant but I didn’t realize I was until about two years afterwards,” he says.
“We were asked to retender for a contract that represented about 50 per cent of our revenue. They rang and said ‘You have to tidy your price up’
“I said ‘Mate that’s the price, I don’t think anybody else can do it cheaper.’
“What I didn’t know was that two of my staff had taken the corporate knowledge and tendered against us. At first I tried to blame them but then I realised if I was a better operator they wouldn’t have walked. I got hungry and went out to the marketplace and replaced the $1million with $3million of revenue and made sure I didn’t have that kind of exposure to one client again and I stayed close to my staff and still do today. I’m one of the few members of Parliament who, from the day they were elected, has still got the same staff.
“I can’t ask for loyalty and respect if I don’t show it.”
Buchholz continued his rise through the National Party, until State President, Bruce McIvor, asked him to manage a merger between the Nationals and the Liberal Party.
“We had been in opposition as a state government for 25 years and I think we were all of the view that if we kept doing the same thing we could only expect the same results,” Buchholz says.
Next he was asked to go to St George and help ‘sort out’ Barnaby Joyce’s diary.
“I thought I’d be there for one week; it ended up being nine months,” says Buchholz, who stood in as Joyce’s chief of staff during that time.
Buchholz stood for a QLD senate position but had never considered running for a spot in the House of Reps.
When Hajnal Ban, the party’s candidate for the new seat of Wright, was accused of misappropriating funds in a trust account, Buchholz told Joyce they should identify new candidates.
“Barnaby said, ‘We have found a potential candidate,’” Buchholz recounts.
“I said, ‘Let me know who it is and I’ll start working with them’. He said, ‘It’s you’
“I resisted. ‘Like bloody hell!’ I didn’t want to be a politician.
“Barnaby rang my wife and she got me to see reason. She said ‘You’re not going to be a good senator, you’re a people person.”
Party insiders say it’s Buchholz’s natural affinity with people that led to his elevation of chief whip.
Buchholz has vowed to give his boss ‘frank and fearless’ advice and to be a ‘friend and philosopher’.
He’s confident Tony Abbott can win back the favour of voters and compares the PM’s start in the top job to that of John Howard, who started awkwardly but grew into a great statesman.
“It’s too early for me to make comment on what advice he gets or doesn’t get. There was a spill motion last week, it was defeated and the PM said ‘I have received a shot across my bow, I’m acutely aware I need to do better on the policy and communication front.’
“Communication will be part of that change, there will be a more collegial approach to the backbench. He’s made a decision and I will play a role in that. I will serve him diligently because he is the leader of the party.”