If Ricky Muir knew we were coming, he would have gone bush at first light, driving his Toyota Landcruiser into the foothills of the Great Dividing Range that rises up from the paddocks behind his Gippsland house.
The 32-year-old out-of-work wood-sawyer and father of five has never been involved in politics. He doesn't know what his Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party would do in negotiations over the carbon tax, what policies it might be prepared to trade off. As he repeatedly points out, he is not even sure he'll be elected.
“With key issues like that, at this stage, because we are not elected, I am happy to just leave that for the time being,” Mr Muir said. “If we get elected we will certainly get youse around and we will speak a lot more seriously about it.”
A series of precisely calibrated, pragmatic preference deals struck by the AMEP has given Mr Muir a good chance of snaring the final Victorian Senate spot -- and the $192,130 salary the comes with it -- despite his party attracting only 0.52 per cent of the vote counted so far.
For all his discomfort at the attention and, particularly, any personal questions, Mr Muir insisted he was excited rather than intimidated at the idea of spending the next six years as Australia's least likely senator.
“As a voter I have always wanted to see the average Australian get voted in,” he said. “That is who I am.” If Mr Muir goes to Canberra, it will be the first time he has lived more than 30km away from Maffra, the Gippsland town where he was born. He grew up and went to school in neighbouring Stratford.
His Denison home for the past five years is a weatherboard cottage where the internet arrives via ADSL and you need to stand on a stump in the back yard to get Optus mobile reception.
His house, which he shares with wife Kerri-Anne and their children, is surrounded by Toyota and Nissan four-wheel-drives and, beyond that, dairy farm paddocks. The three peaks you can see out his back windows are Mount Useful, Mount Wellington and Mount Baw Baw. Mr Muir knows every driving track and camping spot in those ranges and is determined to make sure no more of them are locked up by bureaucrats.
“I'm a four-wheel driver, so if I go out to the bush, I see tracks getting closed down,” he said. “It is quite personal to me. I would like to see the bush stay open. I would also like to see it respected. I don't expect the bush to be kept open for people to make a mess of it. We definitely want some balance.” He said he wanted to see his children's children accessing “this great country of ours”.
“There is nothing more exciting for me than going into those hills right there in the background and spending the weekend away.” Mr Muir's background, until recently unknown outside his family and close friends, is also being accessed, mostly from comments and videos he has posted on Facebook and YouTube.
Some are merely silly -- such as a home video showing Mr Muir and his brother hurling kangaroo poo at one another in a paddock; others raise serious questions, such as his description of former US president George W. Bush as the real terrorist responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Mr Muir laughs off the video as harmless fun.
“If you haven't spent much time in the bush, you go there, and you'll discover there is poo everywhere,” he said. He said the 9/11 comment, posted several years ago on Facebook, was dumb and something he wished he had never said. “My past does not represent who I am now and it has nothing to do with the party.”
Mr Muir said he had no involvement in the preference arrangements that may deliver him a seat in the Senate, saying they were negotiated by the party's Queensland-based secretary, Keith Littler. The party ran two tickets in each state, one favouring Labor and the other the Coalition. It put the Greens near the bottom of every ballot paper.
Mr Muir first became interested in AMEP about four months ago when he came across its logo on social network sites. The more he looked into the new party, the more he liked what it stood for. He was preselected as the Victorian senate candidate without meeting either Mr Littler or party president and Torana enthusiast Tony Standfield. Party meetings are held in online chat rooms or over the phone.
AMEP is not a single-issue party. Mr Littler said the main party platform was road safety but he also opposed anti-hoon legislation and regulations that marginalised people in the street car and swap-meet scene. Mr Muir spent plenty of time and money customising cars when he was younger but said he was now only interested in four-wheel drives and protecting what he saw as a recreational lifestyle under threat.
“When I first got into cars I was just a typical young bloke, I was interested in cars. I would personalise them and make them represent me the best as what they could,” he said. “Once we started having a few kids it became a reality that I'm not going to have a really good paint job for a long time. We moved into the four-wheel drives and we just haven't looked back because what there is out in Australia to explore is just awesome. I would not not have a four-wheel drive now.”
If Mr Muir is elected, his wife Kerrie-Anne will be left to look after their younger children while dad is in Canberra attending to national affairs. It will be a dramatic change of fortune for Mr Muir, who several weeks ago lost his job as the manager of a small saw mill when the company went bust. He started working at the mill five years ago. Before that, he worked for a leather company that made car seats.
“I am just your ordinary, everyday Australian and I thought I would try to bring some balance back into the Senate,” he said. “I didn't know where it was going to go and at this stage, I am not a senator, I am still just a senate candidate. There is a lot of votes to be counted. So we are not counting our chickens before they hatch.”