19/05/2021 - 09:00

Loss as personal as it is public for defeated MPs

19/05/2021 - 09:00

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Where will dozens of departing members of state parliament find themselves in the months ahead?

Loss as personal as it is public for defeated MPs
Terry Redman led The Nationals WA between 2013 and 2016. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Even the most optimistic Labor pundit would not have tipped Terry Redman, four-time elected MP and one-time leader of the state’s National party, to lose his sparsely populated, regional seat of Warren-Blackwood at the state election in March.

Taking in a vast swath of the state’s South West, including Donnybrook, Manjimup and Balingup in the seat’s north-western corner, and sprawling forestland in its south, Warren-Blackwood has for more than three decades been a bastion of rural, conservative political heft.

Before this year, voters would have to cast their minds back to the 1980s, when Brian Burke was considered the country’s most popular premier, to think of a time when it was even notionally competitive for Labor.

Nevertheless, Jane Kelsbie, former chief executive of Worklink WA, pulled off one of the most stunning upsets in an election replete with them, picking up a 14-per cent swing on her way to a narrow victory over Mr Redman.

As Ms Kelsbie becomes the first woman to represent the seat, Mr Redman has been sent back to Denmark to work the phones and tend to his 40-hectare property about five kilometres outside town.

It’s been an abrupt transition, to say the least.

“I haven’t written a bloody CV for 20 years,” Mr Redman told Business News.

“That’s a little bit of a new world at the moment.”

It’s a familiar refrain among Mr Redman’s colleagues; he, along with nine others, lost his seat earlier this year amid a barnstorming result for WA Labor.

While many no doubt saw the result coming, the disappointment in loss was nevertheless overwhelming for some, including Alyssa Hayden, who came up short in the eastern, exurban seat of Darling Range.

Ms Hayden was familiar with losing before this year, having lost at the 2017 state election for a spot in the legislative council in the east metropolitan region.

While she won Darling Ranges at a 2018 by-election, which provided a much-needed morale boost to the Liberal Party after it lost 18 seats at the state election one year before, Labor’s tide was too high this year, with former City of Armadale councillor Hugh Jones cruising to a resounding victory.

Ms Hayden has moved on and taken a job with Kelmscott-based O’Neil Real Estate, which ranks 22nd on the Data & Insights list of residential real estate groups with 30 residential staff in Western Australia.

Still, she describes losing her seat – and the accompanying stress of looking for work – as a whirlwind.

“It’s like going from a hundred miles an hour to nought in a second,” Ms Hayden said.

“You wake up in the morning and your head has planned for a busy day before you realise you have nothing on.

“Those first two weeks I spent packing up the office, but … a lot of the time was spent walking in circles trying to comprehend what just happened.”

That malaise isn’t solely confined to former members of the opposition who sat in the lower house.

Minor parties in the upper house were decimated after Labor’s win, with the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, Greens WA and Liberal Democrats suffering heavy losses because of Labor’s unexpectedly large victory.

Tim Clifford, who represented the east metropolitan region in the Legislative Council for the Greens WA, described to Business News a sense of quiet resignation ahead of the election.

It didn’t take the sting out of the loss.

“We ran a massive campaign; we went out, door-knocked on thousands of doors and built an amazing volunteer base, [so] for it to not come through is disappointing,” Mr Clifford said.

In total, 37 members of the state’s parliament either retired or lost their seat this past March.

Close to two-thirds are entering the private sector, with all having officially been out of work for less than a month.

And while journalists have rushed to profile the 41st parliament’s freshmen class, comparatively fewer column centimetres have been dedicated to the fate of the 40th parliament’s retiring or losing members.

Fewer words, still, have been written about the wider network of staffers that has moved on to new digs, such as Nathan Hondros, who’s jumped from Zak Kirkup’s inner circle to Senator Linda Reynolds’ office, and Jamie MacDonald, who has quietly departed as the premier’s media point person to work with Rio Tinto.

On initial inspection, however, it would seem many are content with the privacy now accorded them, with Business News receiving sporadic responses despite reaching out to various MPs who departed after the state election.

Many do not have readily available contact details and a large number either noted the request and declined to comment or did not respond; in the end, those who did speak on record were, for the most part, either still contemplating their next moves or settling into private life.

Of those who did speak to Business News, most seemed content to recede from public view and settle into a newfound private life.

Take, for instance, former deputy opposition leader Bill Marmion, who said he was not prepared to discuss his plans at this stage and was taking time off after 13 years in elected office.

Mr Marmion’s social media indicates he is currently freelancing as a civil engineer.

Tony Krsticevic, who did not respond to a request for comment, has similarly listed himself as a freelance consultant since March of this year.

Others gave more colourful responses. Ian Blayney, who lost the seat of Geraldton after three terms, said he had gotten back on the tools to work on his brother-in-law’s farm in Kojonup while living in a caravan with his wife.

And then there’s Janine Freeman, a former UnionsWA secretary who opted to retire instead of seek re-election for her seat of Mirrabooka.

She now chairs Fair Food WA, an initiative of the WA Council of Social Services, and is volunteering at the Museum of Perth-run London Court Books as she settles into private life.

Ms Freeman’s outlook is markedly more positive than some others; buoyed by Labor’s victory, she sees herself free to pursue a host of voluntary and community-oriented activities after holding elected office for 13 years.

“I want to do more board work [especially] in that aspect of independent chair of organisations,” she said.

“I think that’s a real skill I bring to the table, having been an active chair and president of the state parliamentary Labor Party of the whole 12 years I was in [office].”

That so few departing members are even telegraphing a comeback at this stage is a stark contrast from four years ago when heightened speculation followed the political movements of the Liberal Party’s outgoing class.

The 2017 election cleared out dozens of Liberals from both the lower and upper house, with the likes of Eleni Evangel, who went on to lead party fundraiser.

The 500 Club, and Peter Abetz, who took on the job of national director of the Australian Christian Lobby, retaining a political voice from outside of elected office.

Industry groups welcomed a host of others, including Jan Norberger, who is now with the Australian Medical Association, and Matt Taylor, who serves as chief executive of the Western Rock Lobster Council.

And while much interest has followed the departure of former treasurer Ben Wyatt, who is rumoured to be in in the hunt for a plum gig with either BHP or Mineral Resources, and Dean Nalder, who has taken a media management role with Hancock Prospecting, prospects for many others have been markedly lower in profile.

Dean Nalder. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Mr Wyatt declined to provide details on his job prospects when asked by Business News.

Mr Nalder, meanwhile, heaped praise on Hancock’s executive chair, Gina Rinehart, citing her successes during her 29-year stint leading the business as a major factor for taking on the role.

“I see it as a privilege to be offered a role working for Australia’s most successful private company ever and one of Australia’s most successful businesspeople,” Mr Nalder said.

“In addition to creating thousands of jobs for Australians, and paying billions in taxes, which help many people, I have already been able to witness firsthand Gina’s generosity and long-term support of our essential Royal Flying Doctor Service, four of our Olympic teams … and more.”

That so few MPs chose to respond to Business News’s enquiries may be a function of time.

With just two months having passed since the state election, many were likely to have either been caught by surprise at their loss or still be in the process of handing over office keys.

Transition allowances, a severance payment of sorts made to MPs who retire or lose their seats, also accords some assurance to those in the opposition who lost their seat and may allow some to wait until 2022 before deciding about their next move.

At the lower end, that allowance can range from between $39,134 to $117,402 for a backbencher who lost their seat. For more notable names, the sum could have been much higher.

Zak Kirkup, who held the office of opposition leader upon losing his seat, could have applied for a payment of $69,306.50 based on the Salaries and Allowances Tribunal’s guidelines.

On the other side of the aisle, Peter Watson, who retired as speaker, was eligible for a $192,081.75 payment, while former ministers Fran Logan and Mick Murray were eligible to have picked up a payment of $207,922.50, each.

Job prospects for these retiring members may be limited to board positions, as has been the case for the likes of John Day, who lost the seat of Kalamunda in 2017 and went on to join the State Library of Western Australia and Art Gallery of WA boards.

While all these figures remain ripe for board positions in future – indeed, Mr Wyatt has already been appointed a non-executive director of the Telethon Kids Institute and West Coast Eagles – these payouts should give them more than a few months to weigh up their options.

Ben Wyatt. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Positions for younger members are far more lucrative.

Lobbying, for instance, is a well-trodden path for the best-connected former MPs.

Megan Anwyl, who lost the seat of Kalgoorlie to Matt Birney in 2001, has built a formidable list of clients lobbying on behalf of the likes of Artrage and the Shire of Ashburton.

Elsewhere, Carol Martin, the first indigenous woman to be elected to any Australian parliament, maintains a prolific contact book representing several indigenous businesses and causes in WA.

Political staffers can also find a path back to politics through lobbying, with Joey Armenti, who was an adviser to Colin Barnett and Troy Buswell, now a registered lobbyist on behalf of oil and gas conglomerate Crestwood Holdings and NSW-based product manufacturer First One Australia.

Then, of course, there’s the prospect of a future run for elected office.

Many of those ousted at the March poll will have just a few months to decide whether to pursue a council bid, given most of WA’s councils will hold elections in October.

History shows council roles were particularly appealing to those who lost their seat after the 2017 state election, with former Barnett government minister Albert Jacob perhaps the most notable figure to re-enter public life after losing his seat in recent years.

Mr Jacob won the City of Joondalup’s mayoralty in 2019 and has since become a prominent advocate for development of Ocean Reef Marina.

Paul Miles and Chris Hatton won seats on the City of Wanneroo and City of Stirling, respectively, that same year, while Frank Alban came within striking distance of a seat at the City of Swan.

Mr Abetz, who was elected to the City of Gosnells in 2017 and subsequently appointed deputy mayor, said he may have considered another run for state politics were it not for his age.

Having worked with the ACL during the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey, Mr Abetz’s council bid stemmed in part from a desire to remain politically active while acknowledging that opportunities for him in state politics may have been limited, given he is in his 60s.

“I live in the City of Gosnells; that was part of my electorate,” he said.

“I got on well with the mayor and the chief executive and thought that could be a less stressful kind of role [as I] was easing towards retirement.”

A federal election, which is expected within the next 18 months, may also provide opportunities for a political comeback, however, state politicians have had relatively dismal record engineering a path to Canberra.

Ian Britza, for instance, attempted two federal runs after losing the seat of Morley in 2017 and resigning from the Liberal Party: one as an independent candidate for Perth, and the other as the Country Party’s nominee for the NSW seat of New England.

He earned 3 per cent and 0.6 per cent votes in each race, respectively.

Other comebacks to have fallen short in recent years include former environment minister Mr Jacob’s failed attempt to win preselection for Senate at the end of 2020, and Matt Taylor’s second attempt to win preselection for the seat of Bateman ahead of this most recent state election.

With those precedents in mind, few if any of this year’s defeated and retiring candidates appear to have appetite to re-enter public life any time soon.

Mr Nalder was perhaps the most unequivocal in his refusal to run for elected office again, content to work with Mrs Rinehart and serve on the board of the South Fremantle Football Club, for which he played in the 1980s and 1990s.

“I have no intention of re-entering the political arena, whether it be state, federal or local,” Mr Nalder said.

“I have prepared a submission for the Liberal Party review. I am currently unsure if I will play any other informal role in the future of the Liberal Party.”

Likewise, Mr Redman seemed uninterested in any future bid, acknowledging the impact it had on his wife’s professional career. He said he had been considering applying for board positions.

“Public life takes its toll; it’s not clear until you’re out of it quite how much that is,” Mr Redman said.

“I’m stepping out of public life and … I’ll take those steps graciously.

“I don’t want to be throwing hand grenades anywhere; that’s certainly not how I do business.”

Ms Hayden showed little appetite for jumping back into the political fray any time soon, ruling out any desire to run for council while acknowledging a return to state politics may yet be on the horizon in the years ahead.

“You never say never,” she said.

“I already get people stopping me as I go out walking in the morning saying, ‘I miss you’.

“I won’t rule it out, but I’m really interested in doing something new and different.”

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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