To the casual observer, politics might seem like a game at times, but the outcome of elections can be instant and extreme, not least for those MLAs who lose their seats, writes political reporter BELINDA STRAHORN
JUST weeks since the ACT election, what is it like to lose, clear out your office, dust yourself down and move on?
“CityNews” spoke to the six defeated MLAs about being made redundant, what they consider their greatest Assembly achievements, challenging moments and what to do next…
ANDREW WALL, former Liberal MLA for Brindabella
“When things change in politics, they change quickly. Going from an MLA one day to absolutely no-one the next day, it’s rough. I don’t think any of us that missed out expected to lose our seats at the election.
Personally, there’s a little bit of shock, but that’s politics. Politics is a contact sport, you take someone’s seat when you run and every election someone is trying to take yours.
The election was on the Saturday and my office was empty by the Monday. There was no ambiguity about it, it was over. Rip it off like a Bandaid and get through it. The result I got in Brindabella [were I to get] in any other electorate would have got me elected. The disappointing bit in it is there are some people in the Assembly that I got a higher personal vote than, but the nature of Hare Clark wasn’t enough for the fight that I was in.
I think I was more devastated by the result overall on the night, when it looked like we were only going to pick up eight seats.
People put their lives on hold to run and it was overwhelmingly disappointing to see we didn’t achieve what we set out to do or even come close. Politics is more than a job, it’s a lifestyle. I never anticipated winning in 2012 when I ran, so actually getting in was a real joy and a real excitement.
I’ve got two young kids and I think my wife is happy to have me home a little more than normal now. I came out of the construction industry so I’m looking for something that might blend my experience in building and construction with my eight years in politics.
Every day is different in politics. Sometimes it’s the small things, that no one sees or hears about, that are the most satisfying. A local charity lost all their funding and needed about $20,000 a year to keep their doors open and they only had a couple of weeks of funding left.
Through the business contacts I had we were able to help get sponsorship for them, I never got my name up in lights, never got a headline for it or public recognition but the association is still running and providing care for families who need it.
I’m 36, I’ve had nine years in professional politics, I’ve got so much out of this. Gratitude is the biggest feeling I’ve got at the moment, it’s been a remarkable journey.”
DEEPAK-RAJ GUPTA, former Labor MLA for Yerrabi
“It’s a time of grief. I’ve accepted the outcome but it’s something I wasn’t expecting. After working so hard in the Assembly and in the campaign, this wasn’t the result I was expecting.
It’s not the greatest feeling, to be honest. This is a bit of a soul-searching time for me and my party, who were equally disappointed.
The Liberals were targeting me from day one, they knew the fifth seat in Yerrabi was very crucial for them, that’s why they put two community members from my community as candidates, which is not a very smart strategy because they knew that those two people would not win, but they would divide my vote and that’s exactly what happened.
My background and my name must have played a role. I’ve lived in Australia for 32 years, I am an Australian, my kids are Australian, why should I be looked at through the lens of my race, my colour, my name, my accent.
Perhaps it’s not time for people in migrant communities to move into the political scene, we might need to wait another five or 10 years when the second generation [of migrants] are mature, it’s not the time for first-generation [migrants] to cross the line.
I was doing a good job as an MLA, I was doing what a local representative should do for the community. I honestly couldn’t have done anything more, I put in so much effort. Nobody could say: ‘Deepak didn’t do a good job’. Being in the Assembly is one way you can raise your voice but you can still raise your voice from outside. People need a listening ear and I have that, I will continue to listen to people’s issues, that journey will not stop.”
JAMES MILLIGAN, former Liberal MLA for Yerrabi
“I’m just trying to get on with things and making sure I’m able to pay the bills. I cleaned out my office the Monday following the election, I decided the best thing to do was get in and clear it out, and not think about it too much.
This isn’t the end of my political career. I feel I have a lot more to offer and I will still endeavour to push forward if an opportunity presents itself again.
I feel what I did in my first four years in the Assembly hadn’t been done before. I was changing the way we look at politics and how we deal with it. We developed a suite of policies within the indigenous portfolio that was really revolutionary because no state, territory or federal government has really done that from opposition.
Every issue I dealt with, I thought about it considerably before I acted, I think sometimes people just rush into things and don’t give the consideration it needs.
To do the job well, you need to be honest, transparent and consult with the community and stakeholders.
What’s next? I’m working on re-establishing the publishing company I had prior to going into politics, we do all sorts of publishing, printing and graphic design and I’m adding business consultancy as well.
Being an MLA was an extraordinary experience and I absolutely loved it. This is a tough time, and a tough time for my staff, too. I want to acknowledge that they worked so incredibly hard and they need to find new jobs, too.”
BEC CODY, former Labor MLA for Murrumbidgee
“It’s disappointing. It was an amazing opportunity to be a member of the Legislative Assembly and particularly representing the area that I grew up in.
Since leaving, I’ve had my first proper relaxation time in many years, I’m not very good at taking holidays or having down time, so it’s been quite nice. I have watched a lot of Netflix, spent a lot of time with my beautiful new rescue dog Rocky, and I’m going to travel to Queensland to spend some time with my father who is unwell.
For me, the most memorable thing about the job was including workers’ rights in the human rights act, we are the first jurisdiction with a human rights act and it gives us certainty that we can look after workers in the future.
Post politics I’d like to continue to stand up for workers and continue advocating for people, I’ve always enjoyed that and think I’m good at it. But, I need a little bit more downtime so that I can go into my next role with as much enthusiasm that I took into the Assembly.
I will miss the social interaction of politics but it’s also the thing I might not miss… it’s a double-edged sword. I’d like to thank everyone who voted for me, supported me or helped out on my campaign.
In parting wisdom, my advice to new MLAs is enjoy it. It’s an honour and a privilege to be elected to the Assembly and I think sometimes we forget that when we have our head down, bum up, focused on doing the right thing, but it should be fun, too.”
CANDICE BURCH, former Liberal MLA for Kurrajong
“I’m doing okay. It’s very disappointing and disappointing we didn’t win government because that’s what we set out to do.
You go into politics knowing that this is the game you are in and this is sometimes the way that it goes. At least I’m getting some much-needed rest. I think it’s been a bit easier for me because I wasn’t in the role as long as most of the MLAs, I’ve only been in the job for two and a half years [elected to replace the late Steve Doszpot in 2017] so my office clean up didn’t take that long. I also had a week watching the postal votes coming in, which gave me time to come to terms with the way the result was going. The result wasn’t what anyone was expecting but that’s what we are seeing with covid elections, you don’t know what’s going to happen, that’s politics. Coming in on countback was a steep learning curve, I didn’t get as much training and support as everyone else, but the nature of politics means you have to have a thick skin and you need to figure out how you can be effective in opposition and achieve good outcomes.
My greatest and proudest achievement was the campaign we mounted against the government’s cuts for school buses and we did get a significant number of cuts reversed.
The greatest joy of the job is the people you meet. There are so many incredible people working so hard on causes they are passionate about. I loved that the position gave me the opportunity to meet those people, that’s the part I will miss the most.
At the moment, I’m most excited about having time off and getting back to my reading list, taking a break and figuring out what I did with my Saturdays before politics.
Politics is a lifestyle… it’s a huge demand on your time. My advice to new MLAs is to enjoy the experience, it’s tough, it’s a steep learning curve but enjoy the adventure.”
GORDON RAMSAY, former Attorney-General and Labor MLA for Ginninderra
“The results of the election were obviously deeply disappointing, it isn’t what I had hoped would be the outcome.
But Hare Clark is always a very difficult system for people involved and it was always going to be extremely close. That means it is difficult, not only for me, but for family and for staff, I feel very much for them at the moment. I’m taking a little bit of time to rest and refresh. I will then look forward to continuing to be part of the way we can work towards a stronger, more cohesive society in this wonderful city.
I spent 20 years in Canberra before being in the Assembly doing that from the community sector. I will always be proud of the work that we did in relation to the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse. Our community, our institutions, our court system are all places that are better positioned to support survivors, and more prepared to prevent the abuse happening again.
And the work, both nationally and locally, in supporting older Canberrans, addressing elder abuse, is something I believe will have long-term benefits for many people.
Some of the most challenging times have come in the past six months. The covid emergency bills were essential for us as a community, but there was so much more that placed great pressure on people, including me.
One of those areas was our arts and creative industries being impacted by the covid restrictions. I was very pleased we implemented the speedy and substantial support for individuals and organisations, but it has been both challenging and painful to hear and respond to the stories of so many people whose livelihoods were substantially impacted overnight.
The creative sector recovery is going to be so important, not only to people in the sector, but to us as a community. The last four years have been the most amazing privilege. Thanks to everyone who has worked alongside me.”