‘Falling off a cliff’: Life after the people vote you out

Key points

  • There is life after politics for the former MPs who lost their seats in last month’s election.
  • One former MP has set up a consultancy business, another is going on holiday and a third is considering state politics.
  • But those who have been there already acknowledge it is hard – and takes time. 

“Falling off a cliff” is how some former MPs describe the aftermath of losing their seats in an election.

For those kicked out of government, the prospect of finding a new job can be extremely daunting.

But ex-MP Katie Allen, who lost her formerly blue-ribbon Liberal seat of Higgins to the Labor Party’s Michelle Ananda-Rajah on May 21, was sounding upbeat as she prepared to meet a friend for coffee on Toorak Road, in the heart of her former electorate.

“I feel like I haven’t finished, I still have a contribution to make,” Allen said.

Ex-Higgins MP Katie Allen is thinking about life after politics.Credit:Jason South

After her loss, the first-term MP – a paediatrician and medical researcher – said she accepted the result “100 per cent” and had received hundreds of emails from constituents.

“They made me want to cry, they were so lovely. They said, ‘You didn’t lose the seat, there were other forces’.

“I am a doctor and I know that people in a crisis won’t change their doctor, but afterwards they want to change things. Once they moved past COVID, they moved past the government that took them through COVID.”

Further south in the bayside electorate of Goldstein, Tim Wilson – the two-term Liberal MP who lost his seat to teal independent and former ABC journalist Zoe Daniel – has spent the past week on post-parliamentary life admin: buying his own laptop and replacing his official government passport.

“In the days that follow you are really in a political version of the ICU.”

Meanwhile, former treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who lost his seat of Kooyong to teal independent Monique Ryan, is setting up a consultancy business, taking an office in the high-end Como Centre in South Yarra.

The outgoing member for Kooyong, Josh Frydenberg.Credit:AAP

Gladys Liu, who lost the eastern suburbs seat of Chisholm to Labor’s Carina Garland, is contemplating a tilt at state politics, possibly in the Upper House.

The Sunday Age and The Sun-Herald spoke to a number of former MPs who faced similar circumstances, losing their seat in a climate where their political opponents form government.

Gladys Liu is considering a tilt at state politics.Credit:Simon Schluter

“In the days that follow, you are really in a political version of the ICU,” said one former MP who lost his seat and declined to be named. “There is not a lot you can do to ease the pain of what happened.”

Clem Newton-Brown, who lost his state seat of Prahran in 2014 to the Greens in the election that swept Daniel Andrews’ Labor government to power, now has a completely different career.

“You have to believe you can win to campaign effectively, so you do hit a brick wall and fall off a cliff when you actually lose your seat. There is definitely life after politics, but you need to quickly move on from the all-consuming work in parliament and develop a plan B,” he said.

Former Victorian MP Clem Newton-Brown has started his own business called Skyportz to enable flying taxis. Credit:Wayne Taylor

For Newton-Brown, plan B was using his skills in planning, community engagement and public policy to launch a whole new industry – his Skyportz electric air taxi business. It requires a new regulatory system and infrastructure.

“I have found my niche working with regulators, government bureaucrats, air regulators, aviation consultants and the property industry.”

Newly unemployed, former MPs who entered parliament after the 2004 cut-off to qualify for a parliamentary pension, receive a “resettlement allowance” often, 12 weeks of their basic parliamentary salary.

They must first decide if they want to attempt to seek re-election, which is best served by working for themselves, or walk away from politics altogether.

“You do hit a brick wall and fall off a cliff when you actually lose your seat.”

Wilson, who before parliament was a policy director at the free-market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs, and a human rights commissioner, plans to go hiking in Yosemite National Park with his husband Ryan. He also plans to set up his own climate and energy advisory business, utilising his experience as a junior minister for industry, energy and emissions reduction.

“I’m very open about the journey that I’ve gone through, from foetal position crying on Sunday morning through to seeing a psychologist yesterday,” Wilson told an energy efficiency conference in the week after his electoral defeat.

Former assistant energy and emissions reduction minister Tim Wilson. Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Allen is already fielding inquiries about board positions and, along with a PhD student, has just had a research paper on infant peanut allergy accepted by The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Frydenberg could well look for inspiration in John Pesutto, who lost his seat of Hawthorn live on ABC television on the night of the Victorian election in 2018.

Former MP John Pesutto, who lost the seat of Hawthorn in 2018.Credit:Joe Armao

The former state Liberal shadow attorney-general took up an honorary post in the school of government at the University of Melbourne and kept up a presence in the media, with columns for The Age and slots on ABC Radio and Joy FM, which he did gratis.

To pay the bills, Pesutto, a former commercial lawyer, established his own consultancy firm called Hugo Benice Advisory, offering legal work, and media, government and competition advice. It was months before he got his first client.

The flexibility has allowed Pesutto, who declined to be interviewed for this article, to get back in the political game. He is recontesting the seat of Hawthorn in Victoria’s upcoming election in November.

On the other side, David Bradbury was a federal Labor MP who lost his western Sydney seat of Lindsay after two terms in 2013, when Tony Abbott led the Coalition to power. Bradbury eventually found work overseas at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris. He now heads the organisation’s tax policy and statistics division.

“Running for election is like going for a job interview, but you do it in full view of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people,” he said.

Former federal Labor MP David Bradbury.Credit:Glenn Hunt

“It’s very difficult for someone who was a minister in the former government to ever take on a government appointment, or even a bureaucratic role,” he said.

Bradbury decided after leaving politics that to gain employment and use his skills as a tax lawyer and assistant treasurer, it would be necessary to disconnect from public political commentary.

He advised newly unemployed MPs to take time out before deciding their next steps.

“There’s a really strong sense of uncertainty, particularly if this is something that people have been working towards for a large part of their life but all of a sudden, it is brought to an end.”

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