TAKE AWAY coffee in hand, Jaala Pulford walks briskly across the road to her Ballarat office and apologises for being late.
Realising she's in fact not late at all, she apologises again and says the staff of the nearby café know her well and she has stopped to chat.
Safely inside a meeting room, we begin a wide-ranging conversation that fills the best part of an hour.
Fresh from a sitting week in State Parliament, the opposition member for Western Victoria rattles off just a few of the issues which have come across her desk — including Victoria's new anti-corruption commission, the upcoming budget, her discussions with local councils and flood recovery issues.
It's a Friday morning and back in Ballarat she has something of a chance to catch her breath.
"One of my all time favourite things is rolling down the hill on Mair Street on the way home," she says.
In a city with more than its fair share of female politicians, Pulford's role as an upper house state member makes her arguably the least visible, but her close connection to the region's political class and first hand knowledge of local issues makes her a strong force.
"It's a strange occupation to describe in a social setting, so when I tell people I am an MP sometimes their eyebrows go up as they think of the half a dozen or so they see on their TV every night of the week."
First elected in 2006, the 38-year-old is a busy mother of two and nothing like the stereotypical politician except for one biographical detail.
While most of her peers were worried about high school popularity and fashion, Pulford was busy joining the ALP Castlemaine Branch at 16.
"I had a year 11 politics assignment in which I had to compare and contrast the policies of the two major parties," she said.
"So, in a time when only NASA was using the internet, I asked my parents how to find out about Labor party policies, and they told me to talk to a family friend who ran the local branch. At the end I asked how to join and I have been a member ever since."
While her parents actively involved in local branch politics, Pulford says theirs was a political household where the issues of the day were always discussed.
Her parent's involvement with a community radio station provided her introduction to the machinations of volunteer committees, meetings and personalities.
After study in Melbourne, she became an official with the National Union of Workers and later was vice-president of the Victorian ALP.
Juggling a demanding job and family life, Pulford benefits from being slightly removed from some of the state's most bitter day-to-day politics in the lower house.
She serves as parliamentary secretary for regional and rural development and agriculture.
Casually cultivating contacts and backgrounding journalists, she is just as at home in the second hand chic of Eclectic Tastes or on the V/Line 7.02 to Melbourne as she is in the historic halls of Parliament House.
Her easy demeanour might make some forget they are talking to a politician.
Despite some "feral nights working until 2 or 3am" Pulford says Spring Street isn't as adversarial as it appears.
"A lot of the really good work that members do happens on committees and there is a lot of really interesting and detailed policy work that has a real impact on the community," she said.
She credits former Australian Democrats leader Janine Haynes as one of the women who inspired her to consider a career in public life and speaks highly of Julia Gillard and former prime minister Paul Keating.
"Janine Haynes was a dynamic, strong, impressive woman in politics and that was not particularly common when I was growing up. Now it’s not unusual - you only have to look at the diversity on both sides to see some very impressive leaders like Tanya Plibersek and Nicola Roxon."
"I do wonder if her role at the time sparked the interest of women across the country in getting involved in the political process, because she broke through a few glass ceilings herself," she said.
Perhaps instinctively, halfway through the conversation Pulford grabs the smartphone recording the discussion, having mistaken it for her own.
Representing such a large section of the state and enjoying an active social media presence, the phone is something of an essential for Pulford, who stays in Melbourne during parliamentary sitting weeks and says she has mastered online maps to make the most of travel time.
While many political players are clearly in it for the sport or to realise ambition, Pulford's says she believes in "getting involved in the right fight at the right time and working smart".
Among her high priorities are employment in the region and in particular support for small business and the vital role she sees it as playing in communities large and small. Pulford also likes to dedicate time and passion to smaller community projects she describes as “unglamorous”. The sort she says may not get a Minster to the opening but have resounding benefit to the people who utilise them.
We discuss her admiration for former Labor Party president Greg Sword who's work in achieving superannuation for blue-collar workers inspired her.
During a recent political attack from the other side of the state's upper house centered on her husband, City of Ballarat director Jeff Pulford, Jaala laughed and declined to be drawn in. In a short phone call in which she dismissed the attacker as opportunistic and inexperienced, Pulford showed herself to be both politically savvy and down to earth.
Back in her own office Pulford shows me some old news clippings and children's drawings she has kept for sentimental reasons.
With campaign posters bearing images of a styled Mr Brumby and a youthful former premier Steve Bracks on the wall, the room is neat and organized.
On the subject of her two children — daughter Sinead, 10 and son Hamish, 8 — she requests permission to "have a moan."
"Have you seen them this week? Because I hardly have," she said. "When (former New South Wales senator) Mark Arbib retired and the journos were all looking for a secret motive, I said 'maybe he just really likes hanging out with his kids' because the sacrifices on the home front do have to be made in this line of work."
The family is just back from the Port Fairy Folk Festival - "my favourite weekend of the year" — and Pulford says weekend quality time often takes the form of listening to music or playing a board game.
"When I came back from Melbourne, they were all singing some of the tracks from the new albums we picked up, so I really had to make up for that and listen to them as well," she said.
"It is a real family affair for us, with my parents and extended family coming along in previous years," she said.
Given the political nature of her job, Pulford says an aunt has been ringing regularly to see if she is watching ABC TV's
Asked where she will be in 10 years, Pulford lights up. "Hopefully we will be back in government by then," she laughs. "I see myself continuing this line of work, and while I can't say what it will look like for sure, I know my daughter will be 20 and my son will be doing year 12, so I guess I will be freaking out about that."
After a long conversation comes to an end — and with that coffee still almost wholly in tact — Pulford gets to work finishing a busy week.
There's clearly plenty to do.