At first glance, Steven Marshall appears to be a ‘cool’ dad. He arrived for our interview, being driven by his teenage son, who was behind the wheel for the first time. Charlie, 19, has spent the last two years traveling and hasn’t had a chance to practice his driving skills until now but Marshall appeared unfazed by the usually stressful situation.
The divorced father of two also recently held his 17 year old daughter Georgie’s formal ‘pres’ at his house. An impressive feat, considering how limited the Opposition Leader’s time is, and of course, there’s always the risk of something going wrong. But like the driving scenario, Marshall approaches parenting in a relaxed manner, putting trust into his kids and their decisions, and formal night went off without a hitch.
In his household, political agendas are put aside. Steven focuses on quality time with his kids, while enjoying any down time from his hectic schedule.
Up until now, Marshall has shielded his family from the press and allowed his kids to play out their teenage years without the public scrutiny that can accompany the role. You wouldn’t know if from our chat with them however, as they fielded questions from me like seasoned professionals. As though they’d been interviewed hundreds of times. In reality though, they were just comfortable chatting about their dad, and about how normal their home life is.
In their open plan, sunlit home, Charlie and Georgie made themselves comfortable, leaning on the kitchen bench and chatting, while Steven ran around pouring everyone water, and checking we had cups of tea or coffee. He’s a natural entertainer, and extremely happy just hanging out at home and playing the host. Then it was time for the interview to start.
I began by asking Georgie and Charlie how they’ve found the transition from being kids of a regular dad, to one that’s in the spotlight. How have they found being ‘political kids’? Georgie says she’s always gotten along with adults quite well so it hasn’t been much of a change. Charlie reflects a similar thought, before Steven jumps in and clarifies that neither one of them have been involved much at all. “Charlie only helped once on election day because his friend wanted to come along.” Everyone laughs. It’s clear that while they support what their father does, both teens are quite happy leaving him to do his job, and just enjoying their family time at home. Neither seem to have any interest in politics at all.
Asking Steven how he’s found the transition, which of course came with an intense schedule (he’s been known to have multiple lunches and dinners every day to accommodate all the events he’s needed to attend), he explains without missing a beat. “When kids are this age they don’t need you as much as they did when they were younger. I’ve always walked them to school, and walk them home from school – and I’ve always them cooked breakfast every morning. Bacon and eggs, omelettes etc. But Georgie isn’t eating breakfast as much as she used to. Spending dinner time together has also been important. Sometimes I’d come home from work at 5:30pm, cook dinner, get changed and go out to a function. Kids this age don’t need you there for 7 hours a day. They just want to eat, do their homework and watch Netflix. As long as you’re there for them for an hour or so to hang out, answer any questions they have, plan the next day – that’s probably more than most parents get with their teenage kids. So it’s never been a big issue to be honest.”
After hearing her father speak about cooking them meals, Georgie pipes up to enthusiastically endorse her dad’s culinary skills. “Dad is SO GOOD at cooking dinner. I mean he repeats his meals” she laughs, “but the ones he repeats are done because they’re so good. His specialty would have to be the mushroom risotto.” Charlie adds “It’s all pretty Italian based.”
Steven continues “I do like my mystery soup. It’s like a minestrone where I put every single thing in the cupboard in to it. When the kids were younger they had to guess how many ingredients were in it. And they had to go through them and I would always have something crazy in there.”
I wanted to know if Steven Marshall taught his kids to cook. He is quick not to take any credit. “No it was their mother, she is a very good cook. She went to cooking school between school and uni.”
As for Father’s Day, we probed to see if he worked, or took time out to do a special family tradition with the kids. While he doesn’t work on Father’s Day, it turns out nobody was really sure what they did instead. Steven says “I don’t even know what we do on Father’s Day. We don’t do too much. We never have.” Charlie offers up the info. “We usually go see nanna and grandpa – they live down by the beach.” Everyone agrees.
Georgie says “We’re really bad at Father’s Day presents. They’re terrible! Usually mum will buy a book and we’ll just give it to him. The latest book was ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck’. I read it first and underlined bits, and added footnotes in and asterix for the important bits. Because I knew he wouldn’t have time to read it so I went through and said ‘read this bit, read this bit’, so he could skip to the good parts.” Steven laughs and shakes his head. While he won’t tell us what he thinks of the book, I’m pretty sure he loves having it laying around the house.
Georgie make sure we also know that Steven also loves cook books. “He doesn’t use them but he’ll read them.”
For the last two years it’s just been Georgie and Steven, as Charlie has been living away. Firstly in England for a year, and now on the Gold Coast. He’s back briefly for the holidays after just finishing his first semester in Commerce, which he’s been enjoying.
It seems Steven is about to have an empty nest though, with Georgie also finishing up Year 12, then following in her brother’s footsteps. She’ll be heading overseas for a working gap year in Exeter before deciding what to do for uni.
And what life lessons will the kids be taking away from their dad?
Both Charlie and Georgie agree that Steven is big on manners. Georgie says “He’s VERY big on table manners. And that hard work pays off. And also that you can’t believe everything you read in the media. He’s also taught us about organisation and split second timing.” Steven clarifies that “It’s about maximising outcomes from every second of every day.”
Marshall goes on to say “My father worked at Mobile and every month he would end up as the top salesman. He would be required to make, say, 6 calls a day. And he’d make 8. And then he’d say, oh now I can go and see Reg, and he would fit in as much as he possibly could, and that’s why he did well at work and that’s why he’s done well in life. And ultimately, we are all the products of our parents, and as long as you take the good parts from both of your parents, that’s great. And I think that I’m definitely a product of my parents, and my kids are definitely a product of their parents.”
“My dad is a really hard working guy, and a high integrity guy, and a self made person. My grandfather was a wharfie down at Port Adelaide, and my father’s mother, my grandmother, she cleaned the school and they didn’t come from a wealthy family at all. My dad thought, if you work hard in life and apply yourself, like his father, you’ll do well. And that’s one of the great things about living in a place like Australia – that you can just get ahead and you can be anybody, as long as you apply yourself. That’s certainly what I learnt.”
Steven also has advice for his kids about social media, and trolls. He’s had to develop a thick skin over the years, as have many people in the public spotlight. “It can be demoralising” he admits. “If you read social media now, there’s a lot of trolls on there. People can take something that’s completely bland or neutral, and turn it into a massive negative. Or if you’re talking about something positive, they have to say – oh but what about this? So you just have to be very focused on your goals, and what you want to achieve, and be quite single minded about what you’re doing. But for this reason, I actively discourage my kids from getting involved in my career because I don’t think it’s a particularly good idea.”
As far as dad jokes go, apparently Steven is King, with both kids agreeing that their dad can be super embarrassing as he just doesn’t care what people think. He loves to put on a show when they have friends over, and while both Georgie and Charlie agree that everyone loves Steven, it’s still embarrassing when he turns up his classical music. Georgie says when it comes to their own Instagram accounts, Steven does the usual dad stuff, and comments with embarrassing stuff, like “Who’s that boy” or “Get a haircut”.
As for Steven Marshall’s latest policies? He says that being a parent has definitely influenced his approach to politics, and driven his passion for improving education and protecting children. For the upcoming March election, there’s an abundance of associated policies. From taking a pro-active approach to education about healthy living and substance abuse; providing extra support for families and protecting children who are struggling with drug addiction; reinvigorating the study of languages in South Australian schools; and further protecting children against forced marriage, the common thread is evident.
He says “Certainly, I’m informed by the fact that I have two kids, so that helps in my thinking about the policies that we put out there. A lot of what we do is about employment, as there are kids finishing school and finishing uni, and they can’t find a job so they’re going interstate and overseas. A lot of what we talk about is growing our economy to create jobs for the next generation. But I am really concerned about the statistics in South Australia about drugs. The national drug survey shows that the average age that a kid comes into contact with drugs is now 16. So that’s definitely happening at school. And South Australia has the highest percentage of drug offences per capita in the country. We’re a country mile ahead of – two or three times ahead of – States like Victoria, so we’ve got issues in South Australia and we’ve certainly got issues in regional South Australia and they need to be addressed.”
It’s clear that it’s an area Steven is passionate about. While the campaigning for March hasn’t really begun, it’s evident that this isn’t the first time Charlie and Georgie have heard him give this spiel. And while they’re proud of their dad, the certainly don’t see him any differently to before his political career.
Georgie finishes by turning to her dad and saying “I think you’re the exact same person as you were before politics but you just don’t have as much time as you did before.”
Photos by Sally Porter