Wyatt Roy sounds totally resolved over the phone.
"I think the parliament can deal with it. I'm from a very socially conservative Queensland electorate but I told my constituents when I was first elected, I'm for same sex marriage and nothing will change that," comes the voice from the speaker phone.
In the wake of the mammoth six hour Coalition meeting and Tony Abbott threatening to freeze out MPs who advocated for marriage equality, BuzzFeed News asked whether Wyatt Roy, 25, the youngest MP to ever set foot in Australia's parliament, would defy the leader and cross the floor.
He's adamant the current bill won't get to a vote.
But if it did, would he cross the floor?
"I feel quite comfortable doing that."
It's pretty funny that this Wyatt Roy (cross the floor Wyatt Roy) was the young bloke pictured above just a few years ago.
Sporting an oversized polo shirt, baggy jeans and white sneakers, 18-year-old Wyatt Roy was the picture of a young, daggy conservative-minded kid trying to find a way onto the union board of Melbourne’s LaTrobe University.
With no apparent hope of getting elected, a small group of mates forged Roy’s signature to put him on the ballot. For someone quick to stress he is not the archetypal, John Howard-loving, Tory student politician, this 2007 university election marks a key moment in the Wyatt Roy narrative.
Over beers the friends brainstormed a fierce but completely madcap campaign that was pro-VSU and anti-Workchoices (“to fire them up”). And then there were some lame political slogans that could only come from the minds of university students hoping to make their mates laugh.
“Wyatt Roy. He's better than goon on a warm summer's day,” read one bit of chalk graffiti.
“Wyatt Roy. At least he’s not a Marxist,” was another.
One of his friends even scribbled on a singlet, “If politics was your mum, he’d have sex with her. No really.” Uni authorities told him to take it off so the group of nerds wrote the phrase on a banner.
Wyatt lost the election, gathering about 10% of the vote, trailing behind an array of left-wing candidates.
In the larger Wyatt Roy story it was no matter. Just two years later he was being pre-selected by the Queensland Liberal National Party as a 20-year-old kid to run in the upcoming 2010 federal election. Roy deferred his Arts degree to run, and he won.
Within two years Wyatt Roy went from the loser who promised to have sex with your mum to the youngest federal MP in Australian history. From the guy who never had a full-time job to walking into parliament and collecting $164,000 a year.
Wyatt Roy sat down with BuzzFeed News to talk about what it’s like being a federal politician in your twenties, dating in Canberra and how he sometimes jumps on his mate’s phone just so he can get on Tinder. Senior Liberal figures claim that when he speaks, they listen and that in a few decades the university dropout could be standing at the dispatch box as prime minister.
And yes, isn't it obvious? Labor MPs have nicknamed the sandy-haired heir to a Queensland strawberry farm... Joffrey. Yep. He doesn't like it though.
But sitting in his backbencher office, that’s well beyond where his head’s at. Pulling up his socks and dusting off his brown RM Williams boots, Roy tries to explain how hard it is growing up in the lonely corridors of power. Making sure entrepreneurs get the help they need from the government is a passion, but he also opens up about dating as a young bloke in parliament. Not since being pictured with round-the-world sailor Jessica Watson and taking a girlfriend to a parliamentary function has the private life of Roy been in the public domain.
“You can do it. You meet people all the time. I've made more mistakes there than anybody else would, but you just learn from it. It's hard, it's frustrating, but like everything else, you put effort into it.
“I have only had one girlfriend that was interested in politics. All the rest didn't like it.”
Roy fiddles with his iPhone – which has a spidery smashed screen. It prompts a question on whether he’s ever fired up Tinder during Canberra’s long cold nights? Has he ever felt tempted to swipe right during those boring committee hearings?
“You know what my favorite thing is, when I'm with my mates I can use their Tinder. I can't have Tinder, right? I love playing with theirs. It's hilarious,” he giggles along at the thought but perhaps doesn’t realise how weird it is that a federal MP is moonlighting on a dating app as some random Queenslander.
Other backbench politicians might be trying to figure out Twitter – some like the oldest politician in the building, Philip Ruddock, have taken to it like a duck to water. The young Wyatt is trying to figure out how to streamline his music on Spotify (he likes Flume and Chet Faker), keep his podcasts up to date (he falls asleep listening to Ricky Gervais on Pandora) and makes doubly sure his Snapchat account is private.
“I have a couple of mates that do fly-in-fly-out work at the mines. So I Snapchat them. It’s good. But not for political reasons.”
A lot of the conversation keeps coming back to Wyatt’s mates. A group of miners and tradies who Snapchat and Instagram their buddy in Canberra, and when he’s back in town, take him fishing. He insists that plays a central role in keeping level-headed.
Take for instance Wyatt’s starring role in the failed spill on Tony Abbott’s leadership earlier this year. As he was preparing to take the biggest gamble of his career, to step from the shadows and support the spill motion, Wyatt was in a tinnie on the Brisbane River.
“With all this stuff that was happening, I was out on the Brisbane River, in this Zodiac with my mates fishing.
“We're fishing on the river and having beers and having a good time, and I'm on the phone talking to people running the country.
“I hung up that phone and they didn't ask any questions about it. They wouldn't understand it anyway.”
On his return to Canberra, in what many have called his political coming out, Wyatt faced the cameras and thumbed his nose at the leadership of Tony Abbott.
“I think for too long we have spoken at the Australian people instead of with them,” Roy told a small group of reporters, sending political watchers into a lather.
It prompted screams of “it’s on!” and suggestions that maybe young Wyatt was going to throw his hat in the ring for the leadership (#Wyattmentum is a popular hashtag that resurfaces on Twitter every time his comments cut through the static of the national media). He didn’t, of course. But he was one of the 39 votes who failed to force a final ballot on Abbott’s position.
“It was either suicide or ballsy. One or the other,” he said.
He was part of what the right-wing powerbroker Andrew Robb called an “orchestrated ambush” to dislodge the conservative Abbott. So who was pulling the strings? If this was Wyatt’s coming out moment, it was also the surest sign yet he had found people within the party he could trust.
Wyatt Roy is considered a member of the “wet” wing of the party: those who are socially progressive but economically conservative. He tells BuzzFeed News his “mates” in parliament are former tennis champion and Sydney MP John Alexander and jokester Townsville MP Ewen Jones. There has also been those made-for-TV moments when the baby-faced Roy has sought the counsel and advice of elders like Warren Entsch and Philip Ruddock while in parliament.
But when talking to senior party figures about Wyatt, they all point to Senator Arthur Sinodinos - the shrewd, well-respected, former Howard Chief of Staff who was burned by Tony Abbott’s office last year after getting embroiled in seedy allegations at NSW’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).
It was when the 58-year-old NSW senator came out in support of the spill in February that everyone took real notice. There were claims he was the one orchestrating the ambush by whipping up the anger among the disgruntled backbench.
It’s no surprise when BuzzFeed News interviewed Sinodinos he had glowing praise for Wyatt.
“It was a big decision and he didn’t take it lightly. It takes a lot of guts to do that sort of thing. Instead of doing anything in the media, he was open and stood up for it,” the senator says.
When asked whether he had put Wyatt up to it, Sinodinos laughed it off.
“It was all pretty spontaneous, really. It came from, shall we say, various tributaries we have."
By their own admissions the youngest MP in the party and the most respected stalwart are now quite close. They sit next to each other in the party room and talk to each other constantly. And when Wyatt speaks, Sinodinos claims that the party takes him seriously.
“I sit next to him in the party room and we do chat quite a bit. He doesn’t speak every single time but when he does, people listen.”
Being the youngest ever MP does plague Roy, and trying to get the respect of a party which doesn’t exactly attract the youth vote is a concern for him. He also hates being compared to others who were elected young. Especially Christopher Pyne.
“I'm nothing like Christopher, actually. And you know what's funny? At my 21st, Tony (Abbott) gave a speech, because Chris came to Parliament quite young. I love Chris. Chris is a great guy. Tony gave a speech and the first thing he said was I am the exact opposite of Christopher Pyne.
“If that's what Tony Abbott thinks, then I'm happy for people to think that.”
Questions about Roy’s prime ministerial prospects naturally emerge when speaking to the level-headed but clearly ambitious young politician. He enjoys being a politician and, like a little kid who gets to meet his heroes, proudly shows off framed photos of him with US president Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama on his office walls.
Roy tells a story about how the US president joked to Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard that he was coming for their job.
BuzzFeed News asked, well are you?
“I think everybody in this building wants to be PM, don't they? They're all lying to you if they say no. Oh my God. Every office in this building you walk into, there's a prime minister just waiting to be let out.”
But if you ask senior Liberals they all joke that “prime minister Wyatt Roy” is not ridiculous, it’s just a long way from reality.
Julie Bishop told BuzzFeed News: “Wyatt has the qualities to be a great prime minister - but given the average age of an Australian PM is more than 52, he has to be a stayer.”
And from Sinodinos: “There’s a joke in the party room that is sometimes said, ‘oh we can fix that in 20 years time when Wyatt is prime minister.’”
If anything, Wyatt’s first five years of being a politician has been one long struggle against being the Joffrey Lannister of Australian politics.
“I think I'm in a situation where you can't ignore it because I'm the youngest, rather than just young. I'm the youngest. I'm proud of the fact that I was a young person but it doesn't define me. At some point I won't be young.
“I had a haircut the other day and a whole bunch of grey hairs fell out.”
He’s still 25.
Mark Di Stefano is a political editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.
Contact Mark Di Stefano at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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