By Shane Scanlan
Cr Kevin Louey has made a career out of being connected.
He has been around the town hall for longer than any of his contemporaries but has very little to say on most things.
He is in his second term as a councillor, but has another two terms under his belt as chief of staff to former lord mayor John So.
After 13 years, he says his achievements are in helping individuals with their City of Melbourne issues.
“I believe my achievements are all the small things, the non-sexy stuff. I don’t jump up and down and I’m not a grandstander. But I’m happy to go out and get my hands dirty,” he said.
Cr Louey was the first councillor to be elected in 2012, having negotiated the top spot on the successful Team Doyle ticket. In local politics, the terms of trade are measured in connections.
Cr Louey’s “day job” also comes on the back of long-term connections. He says his major source of income is derived from being on “a couple” of advisory boards of booming, high-tech Chinese manufacturers.
The owners or senior executives of these companies are friends he made in the late 1980s and 90s when he went to China to explore opportunities.
At the time, his own business interests had collapsed due to failed family restaurant ventures. It was also a period which coincided with a China-liaison position he held with the New South Wales Business Chamber (formerly called Australian Business Limited).
Cr Louey said the board positions involved travelling to China for “a couple of board meetings and a couple of dinners” each year.
“They like my feel for it and, because I’ve known them for so long I’m honest with them so they like my ideas about which is the correct direction to go,” Cr Louey said.
“I put it down to luck and I also believe in karma as well,” he said.
Cr Louey said he befriended his current benefactors when they were recent graduates, doing their required service in state-run enterprises.
He happened to be at these state enterprises at the same time because of his English skills and thanks to connections via his former Chinese wife’s networks.
“This friend of mine, for whom I sit on his advisory board, started in an old farm stables. He developed new technology there and has done wonders in this business,” Cr Louey said.
Cr Louey came to Australia from Hong Kong when he was seven years old. His dad had a restaurant in Box Hill “for decades and decades” and the family first settled in East Burwood.
But the family knew a lot about this country. Cr Louey’s grandfather was Australian, having been born in Bendigo and later “reverse-migrating” to China.
Cr Louey’s father also spent time in both countries, as well as migrating to Hong Kong. During his early years in Melbourne, Cr Louey’s father helped his dad run a restaurant in Smith St, Collingwood.
Having being educated in state primary and high schools, Cr Louey attended Monash University where he promptly dropped out. “I was a terrible uni student,” he said. “I couldn’t concentrate.”
This led to his “rise” through the real estate world – starting in rentals with suburban agents, and then sales and ending up in city development – industrial, commercial and shopping centres.
“That’s why I can work out on the back of a matchbox where the opportunity is,” he said.
The good times didn’t last though and his family “lost more than just a packet” on Chinatown restaurant ventures.
“We failed miserably. We lost everything and had to rebuild. But you learn from that for the next phase and you learn how to trust people,” Cr Louey said.
It was during this period that he connected with Cr So, who later invited him to run his lord mayoral office. It was also this experience which generated his empathy for struggling small businesses.
As Cr So’s chief of staff, he experienced the full breadth of what local government in Melbourne had to offer. It has given him a positive perspective on the current council.
“Council was not so harmonious in those days,” he said.
By contrast, he says the current council is well balanced which, he says, is evidence that the electoral system is working.
“You just have to look at the individuals who have been elected. We haven’t gone one end or the other,” he said.
“There’s no harm in having diverse views as long as you are all able to work harmoniously. And there’s no shouting or swearing and there has been in the past.”
“It’s very collegiate because I think Robert (Lord Mayor, Cr Doyle) has got that knack of bringing people into the camp.”
Cr Louey enjoys being a councillor but says he hasn’t decided whether or not to stand for re-election next year.
“It gets into your blood,” he said. “I like to give people a voice. The interactions with people are tangible. You can’t always get a result, but you can always get an answer from management.”
“I’ve enjoyed it. It’s rewarding. I’ve got extensive networks and some made some great friendships.”