Westin Hotel Lobby, Cnr Collins and Swanston Streets, 9am
Thom Woodroofe is the sort of person who could be Prime Minister one day, though he’s adamant he’s not interested in the job.
Most people know Thom, 21, as the founder of the Left Right Think Tank, a youth policy organisation started in 2008. Since winning Young Victorian of the Year, however, he stepped away from Left Right and has restyled himself as Australia’s next big foreign affairs guru.
In the last year he attended APEC and the G20 Summit; wrote foreign policy pieces for the ABC, the Age and the Punch; delivered programs at several major institutes and took enough international flights to give me a mild case of jetlag.
Thom engages every subject he touches with an assuredness and confidence which is startling. Only when he chuckled awkwardly at his own ‘wonky’ policy jokes, was I reminded that I was simply talking to a young man having the time of his life.
In the last year you’ve written lots of opinion pieces. What has been your objective?
Initially, I got into it when I won Young Victorian of the Year and I wanted to capitalize on that momentum, but I’ve been very careful to make the transition over the last few months [from youth to foreign affairs]. My interest area has always been foreign affairs and making that transition I’ve been able to leverage being ‘that young foreign policy commentator’.
Which one of your pieces have had the most impact?
I broke a story on [Foreign Minister Kevin] Rudd not going to the Asia-Europe meeting. That was then brought up on Insiders the next day and then asked directly by Kerry O’Brien on the 730 Report. It was the first time I had done something that was newsworthy and it was really exciting.
Let’s back track a little bit, you grew up in Daylesford didn’t you?
We moved up to a farm near Maldon when I was seven and I went to a school in Daylesford. We lived on quite an isolated property and we lived effectively without power or electricity. At the time it was somewhat resented, but looking back on it now it was great.
I think its certainly a different upbringing to what I think the perception of me is. When I was working in the youth sector there are a lot of egos flying around and I think I was stereotyped as a rich, private school attending, wannabe politician.
Why do you think people might have that perception of you?
I’m sure I drive it. It’s how I dress, my mannerisms and how I carry myself. That’s not to say there aren’t rich, powerful, wannabe politician people out there doing great stuff, it’s just not me.
Whereabouts does your drive to commentate on politics come from? Is your family political?
My family isn’t involved in this kind of stuff at all. My mum is a teacher and my Dad is an agricultural consultant.
I don’t have a sexy story. I didn’t go overseas and spend time in poverty and decide to do something about it. When I think about what drives me, I feel life is a journey and I want to do as much as I can on the journey.
You’ve maintained you don’t want to hold political office…
So you’ve had thoughts of joining a political party in the future?
Having started LeftRight and been very involved in politics, I find it quite tiresome. I find it very transparent because you know the people involved in the process and what they think.
I’m actually doing everything wrong to be a politician. I’m not a member of a political party, I’m not writing stuff that is particularly one way or another and in some ways I am creating material that could be used against me if I ever ran.
So what guides your opinions and ideology?
I’m an issues voter and an issues analyst. I think for example our approach to asylum seekers is one of the most repugnant in the world and that goes against both the Liberal and Labor parties. When I come to a view I think I come to it with quite a pragmatic reasoning about the issue and I try to avoid the politics of it.
How hard was it to walk away from Left Right?
It wasn’t as hard as I thought because at the time I was consumed by other stuff such as trying to increase our participation in APEC. I had maxed out in terms of the challenges I wanted to see from Left Right, so it was time to let someone else step in.
When you were at APEC last year, what were the central issues being debated on the world stage?
The interesting thing about the international forums is what is being broadcast domestically is often not what is being discussed. During APEC, Gillard would have been addressing asylum seeker debates in the domestic media, whereas in reality trade dominated those discussions.
Tell us about a few of the many projects you are working on.
I spent last year trying to set up a formal funded opportunity for youth to attend APEC and the G20. My hope is next year we can have a national youth delegation for these international forums.
Also, I am doing a project [with the Asia Society] to connect high schools and universities across South East Asia using social media.
Whep! And after all of this?
I’m hoping to do my Honours at Melbourne University on the politics of organising a non-permanent seat at the UN Security Council. It would be timely because we are then bidding for the Security Council in 2013-14.
Thom’s many adventures can be followed via his Twitter account @ThomWoodroofe.