‘My way on the highway’: MP’s eerie ride to nation’s capital
WITH transport options disrupted by COVID-19, Member for Wide Bay Llew O'Brien is riding "my way on the highway" to serve as Deputy Speaker in federal parliament in Canberra.
Three times he has hopped on his Triumph Explorer 1200cc at Gympie and ridden to parliamentary sittings, overnighting at Armidale on the 3000km round trip.
"I love it," he says.
Although numbers of parliamentarians have been reduced during the pandemic - about 20 attended the first sittings and numbers have increased incrementally - Mr O'Brien's presence is needed because of his role as Deputy Speaker.
He said he had special permission to travel interstate while borders remained closed.
"I'm the same as a truckie or a courier or any person that's conducting their normal course of business," Mr O'Brien said.
"I've had to go down three times because of my role as deputy speaker but I still have to get a permit to return to Queensland."
Speaking to the Chronicle shortly after his arrival in Canberra yesterday, Mr O'Brien said riding on almost empty country highways was "eerie".
"I've travelled down three times since the COVID event started and since then it's got a really eerie feel to it," he said.
He travels through towns including Warwick and Stanthorpe before crossing over into NSW at the famous town of Tenterfield.
Seeing so many small businesses that rely on highway traffic in dire straits was devastating, he said.
"It's absolutely crucifying for small business at the moment," Mr O'Brien said.
"My heart goes out to them. People are obviously hoping that things will get back to normal sooner rather than later."
He said he was willing to have any federal politicians hop on the pillion seat if they needed a lift to Canberra while transport options were limited. He paused.
"Except George Christensen," he added.
Mr Christensen, Federal Member for Dawson, and Mr O'Brien have reputations for "going rogue" in the National Party but it is not the thought of two rebels roaring down to Canberra on the Triumph that makes Mr O'Brien hesitate.
It is a weightier consideration.
Mr Christensen topped the scales at 176kg before stomach surgery last year.
He lost more than 40kg but still cuts an imposing figure.
Mr O'Brien, like many Australians, has added a few kilos in the lockdown.
"I don't think there's enough room on the Triumph for both of us," he said ruefully.
Before the COVID-19 restrictions, Mr O'Brien had already made five return trips to Canberra on his motorbike since he was elected in 2016.