Under the Hood with ReGen's Jonathan Phillips

Jonathan Phillips

Jonathan Phillips describes himself as a politics nerd, and throughout his professional journey, he has thoroughly explored this passion.

Having served 12 years in the union space, Jon now supports ReGen Strategic in the position of associate director of stakeholder engagement.

Jon grew up in Perth as the youngest of five kids in his family. The large family environment fostered strong debate and laid the foundation for building the skills required to navigate varying personalities.

In a family with strong opinions, political awareness and curiosity was a natural by-product. Jon says his parents played a pivotal role in fortifying his interest.

As a large family, they would regularly make trips down to Pemberton and the South West to visit relatives, and it was there that Jon had one of his earliest memories after his family threw their support into a campaign to stop old growth logging. 

“From an early childhood, I’ve always been interested in politics, social justice and the environment,” he says.

“My parents were pretty active in the Labor party, so actively participating in politics has always been part of my patch, but I kept following the pathway and found it really fascinating.

“They really grounded my values and my interest in politics, workers’ rights and social justice.” 

Jon attended Wesley College for school and whilst he didn’t describe himself as a stellar student, he found a love for politics and history. 

“Politics was an area of mine where I probably excelled a bit more just because I was definitely interested in it,” he says.

“I wouldn’t always get the best marks across the board, but I’ve always been a ‘learn by doing’ type of person, and politics has so many different avenues to participate and engage.”

“I also recognised my privilege in attending a private school, and I would often use that as motivation for critical thought and work to understand what barriers others might have in not getting the same opportunities afforded to me.” 

Jon’s young aspirations had him thinking about the possibilities of a career in politics. However, as he has matured, he believes it is more important to enjoy the journey than worry about the destination. 

“I really didn’t think I would end up where I wanted to be. When I was a teenager, I thought about political pathways for me, like to become a politician or political analyst but I didn’t know how to get there,” he says.

“When I left school, I was a bit lost, not uncommon for a young bloke still figuring things out. But as I got older my passions helped opportunities present themselves, after a few false starts I eventually found my space when I took on a union role and I just kept pushing forward.” 

Jon’s working life started off at his local supermarket at the age of 17, stocking shelves.

From here, he went on to do some casual work with Tony McRae and work as an electorate and research officer for Robert Ray, before taking on a position in the mining industry.

“I sort of fell into union work because I was looking for a job,” he says.

“I was previously working in the mining sector, pretty common story in Western Australia. I decided I had enough, I wasn’t happy at work, I was coming home unfulfilled, so I left the sector and decided I needed to do something else.”

Jon’s first job in the broader labour movement saw him work for the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union. 

“They were advertising, I applied for it, and I sort of fell into it. But one of the reasons why I stuck to it was, I'm very focused on getting good outcomes and respect for people's workplaces and the work that they do,” he says.

“When I had the opportunity to go work for a union, I felt like it was a natural homecoming in a way. This was something where I could contribute to a positive outcome, whether it is improving someone’s workplace conditions or improving society as a whole.” 

Through his work in the union movement he discovered a particular love for campaigning, which led to opportunities to travel, working on campaigns in the US and New Zealand through workplace exchange programs. He describes his experience in the US as particularly exhilarating.

“Being a political nerd, the US was seen as the holy grail of campaigning and politics at the time in 2014,” he says.

“The money that's invested in campaigning over there just eclipses what happens in Australia. It was a wonderful experience to see the scale of the operations that they have and the different challenges they face.

“It’s truly a fascinating place to learn about political campaigns and engagement, to see the nuances in voter registration and challenges of getting out the vote was an invaluable experience. Not to mention how different suburbs can be within city, let alone a state.”

Jon is fascinated by the way campaigns vary between countries.

In 2017, he found himself working in New Zealand on Jacinda Ardern’s campaign.

He says New Zealand has a unique rule where election campaigning material must be shut off the day before the election.

“On polling day itself, you can’t have any ads, you can’t have any bunting. Election day almost feels like a normal day, which is super weird,” he says.

“I’ve always found that quite unique, which is one of the reasons I love New Zealand.”

One of the most memorable positions of Jon’s career was when he took on the role of WA regional secretary at CPSU-PSU Group.

However, with COVID-19 arriving a short time after he landed the position, Jon had to grapple with new organisational challenges facing the national union as state borders closed.

“It was a bit of a bittersweet moment because I had become a union leader, but then the pandemic kind of crashed in and derailed plans,” he says.

“But from a professional point of view that's definitely a pretty big achievement I have to properly acknowledge and I’ll always be thankful to the CPSU-PSU for the privilege to lead the WA Office.”

When Jon came to ReGen, he had already met and worked with founder and executive chair Daniel Smith.

“I saw ReGen position itself into the space of corporate responsibility to be socially aware, mindful and address the challenges that we are facing,” he says.

“I was really keen to expand my knowledge and to learn in that space and I thought I had some skills to offer.

“I was eager for a new challenge, I’ve worked with Daniel before, and I could see the organisation was filling itself with some really good people that I thought I could work with and importantly, learn from.”

As Jon reflects on his professional journey to date, he still believes the best is yet to come and through his work at ReGen, he is excited to see what he can achieve.

“I find it really interesting to come across a whole range of different issues and working with different clients and different challenges,” he says.

“I also enjoy the people in terms of the different skillsets, the different backgrounds and being able to learn from that environment.”


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