What becomes of the politically departed? Sadly, I’m now finding out | Trent Zimmerman

In the end, political defeat came quickly. After a long, cold day at polling booths. After six weeks of adrenaline constantly at war with exhaustion during the intensity of the election campaign. After six years of work as a member of North Sydney, it was over in a matter of 90 minutes. By 7.30 pm on election night, as the figures rolled in with a consistency that pointed to one outcome, I messaged the New South Wales state director of the Liberal party asking when I should concede.

It would be 24 hours before I rang the new member for North Sydney, Kylea Tink, to congratulate her on her election and offer that concession.

Hope lives eternal, but another day of counting showed that there would be no miracles at this election for me or so many of my friends who lost their seats in the teal wave of 2022.

There are certainly many lessons for those who remain that must be learned if the Liberal party is to represent the communities like mine. Some are obvious, but others require careful consideration over the weeks and months ahead. I want to reflect on what the process has been like so far at a personal level for defeated MPs – the emotions and the practicalities.

Losing an election is a huge wrench.

Work-life balance is a misnomer: talked about frequently by MPs but rarely achieved. In part, that’s because life as a politician becomes all-consuming. It is a seven-day-a-week job that you must love to do well.

Except in the sanctuary of your home, it is a job you carry with you every waking moment.

Perhaps the biggest adjustment in becoming an MP is the loss of anonymity and the concept of ever being a private individual. You are constantly “on stage,” which can be taxing. From the media scrutiny, which is well known, to the small things – people checking out what is in your shopping trolley at a supermarket or getting what some must think is “helpful” feedback about what you are wearing.

Yet despite these features of public life, and many relish them as it’s a career in which you meet plenty of big egos who enjoy their minor celebratory status, having the opportunity to serve as a parliamentarian is something I will never regret so many other reasons.

Trent Zimmerman

For me, the battle of ideas and the contribution to policy development was key driver. The intellectual and strategic struggle occurs in parliament and within your party’s forums. I am working out what is important and when to take a stand, knowing that not every battle can be fought and won. Added to this is the work we do on committees as backbenchers and, in my case, demonstrating through the health committee, I chaired that it is possible to achieve bipartisan outcomes with goodwill and compromise. It is why the day the parliament enacted marriage equality will always be the happiest of my career there.

It’s also the work MPs do every day with their constituents that provides incredible satisfaction, from fighting for the pharmaceutical benefits scheme listing a life-changing drug that will help a teenager live with cystic fibrosis to helping Afghans flee Kabul during the darkest hours of the Taliban takeover, to supporting the most vulnerable during the pandemic.

We can change and even save lives if we do our job well.

It has been a strange period as the formalities of the end of parliamentary service kick in. As an MP, the government provides us with an electorate office and our office in Parliament House. Many of us have a second home in Canberra for the weeks of parliamentary sittings.

The hardest part has been the farewells for my electorate staff.

In my case, I shared a rented townhouse with four other MPs. At one stage, I shared with the foreign minister, the defense minister, and the trade minister. I remember telling one ambassador of this arrangement, and he was shocked that ministers of the crown were part of such a group household in Canberra’s suburbia. While he was mildly scandalized, I thought to myself that this is one of the strengths of our democracy and society – that we neither expect nor need to put our senior ministers in palaces behind fortified walls.

There is a lot of work that goes into leaving properly. Staff farewells, responding to the flood of text messages and emails, thanking volunteers, and, in my case, avoiding the many media calls for your post-election analysis (I did relent for the ABC’s wonderful Patricia Karvelas – I have long ago learned that resistance is futile in her case).

I’ve also had to pack up those two offices and the Canberra home, so the time for gloomy reflection has been sparse. And there have been many conversations serving a cathartic role with my former colleagues – lots of analysis, critiques, and “what went wrong” discussions. I am still thinking about some lessons, but as I said on election night. Residents in electorates like North Sydney want the Liberal party to reflect better their priorities on climate change and gender equality. This agenda sits more comfortably with the aspirations and concerns of voters in the 2020s.

Some have warned me that losing an election is like a grieving process. There is a bit of that. Certainly, some friends and residents talk to you like you are among the dearly departed. Others on the streets cast their eyes away to avoid such a conversation.

The hardest part has been the farewells for my electorate staff, who cease their employment shortly after the election. They have lived and breathed the campaign and my work as an MP and felt the election outcome as much as I have, so it is a difficult time for tSo the weeks since polling day have been ones with mixed emotions. A sense of loss but also a time to reflect. What an incredible six years the people of North Sydney gave me to serve our community. For that opportunity, I will always be eternally thankful.

Trent Zimmerman is the former federalamber for North Sydney.

Bella E. McMahon
I am a freelance writer who started blogging in college. I am fascinated by human nature, politics, culture, technology, and pop culture. In addition to my writing, I enjoy exploring new places, trying out new things, and engaging in conversations with new people. Some of my favorite hobbies are reading, playing music, making crafts, writing, traveling, and spending time with my family.