At a glance:
- Most former MPs are well-equipped to transition out of politics, but those with prior careers find it easier to move on.
- Former MPs have a lot to offer outside of the public sector, bringing unique skills, experience and networks to future roles.
- Misconceptions can make it harder for former MPs to forge new career paths outside of politics.
Life after politics: Navigating your career as a former MP
As a society, we tend to vilify and be quite judgemental of politicians, even though they are just people, and their work permeates and shapes all aspects of daily life. But for Australia to have well-rounded and passionate people wanting to enter Parliament and serve our country, MPs and other senior politicians must be supported in transitioning out of politics, without the stigma that often comes with having served in this type of role.
Throughout a career that spans political journalism, working with the Attorney General as a Political Advisor, and serving as Partner in an Executive Search firm, Jennifer Grove has gained unique perspective on what it takes to work within, and transition out of politics. Here she discusses the challenges that some politicians face in finding new opportunities, and the value former MPs can bring to new leadership roles.
Moving out of politics: what lies ahead?
When the time is right, many MP’s choose to leave politics in search of better work-life balance, less public and media scrutiny, or a less stressful work environment. Others find the change made for them in the case of election losses or losing preselection. Either way, it’s a big change from a world that is all-encompassing while you are in it.
While most former MPs are well-equipped to make this change, those with careers prior to politics often find it easier to move on. “You see a lot of former lawyers, doctors and accountants return to their careers after leaving politics,” says Jennifer. “Examples include Josh Frydenberg’s return to finance, and Christian Porter’s return to private legal practice. Similarly in WA, Geoff Gallop went back into to academia and Richard Court returned to the business world but added a role as an ambassador, as did Gary Gray.”
Advocacy is another popular career path, with former MPs often moving into peak body roles in areas they are passionate about. “We saw this when Mike Baird and Liz Behjat took up leadership roles in aged and community care,” says Jennifer. “Anna Bligh is another example, joining the Australian Banking Association, and Ian Macfarlane made a similar move into the Queensland Resources Council. Of course, from an integrity point of view it’s important that codes of conduct are observed in these circumstances.”
Making this transition can be harder for MPs who have only ever worked in politics, or when they leave politics through controversy. “How an MP has conducted themselves and what they have achieved during their service does matter,” Jennifer continues. “If an MP has profile and credibility, and they’ve done a good job advocating for their community in key policy areas, this transition will naturally be much easier.”
What do former MPs bring to new roles?
While there are always anomalies, generally MPs need certain skills, attributes and experience to serve their community and do their job well – all of which also lends itself to a wide range of roles outside of politics.
“The nature of the job means that most MPs are good communicators, listeners, collaborators, multi-taskers and quick learners,” says Jennifer. “They also manage relationships and stakeholders well, work well under pressure, take advice on multiple issues and can get across a lot of information very quickly.”
“If MPs have held portfolios and served as Ministers, they also bring deep specialist knowledge and networks in those fields, experience dealing with the media, and at least a working knowledge of departmental budgeting and operational matters,” Jennifer continues. “As many people go into politics to serve their community and focus on particular issues, they also tend to be quite articulate and outspoken in these areas.”
What types of roadblocks do former MPs face?
Despite the experience that former MPs bring to new leadership roles, some misconceptions can jeopardise these opportunities, and make it harder to forge new career paths after leaving politics.
“Some people still think MPs have enormous pensions, but it’s no longer like that,” Jennifer says. “If you came into politics 20 or 30 years ago, you would have a better Superannuation when you retire, but today the contributions are modest and very clearly defined,” Jennifer explains. “The majority of former MPs also have regular family and financial commitments, and need to continue working long after leaving politics.“
Perceived restrictions on joining the private sector after politics creates additional employment challenges for former MPs. “While there are some lobbying restrictions initially after leaving Parliament, these are the only rules that come into play, and they are very clearly outlined in the Australian Lobbying Code of Conduct,” Jennifer continues.
Despite these and many other challenges, Jennifer describes politics as an exciting and rewarding career choice, particularly at Federal level. “It takes a certain kind of person to want to work in this environment, but it does let you touch change, advocate, and move the agenda on issues that really matter,” she says.
“It’s unhelpful when people think of a career in politics as limiting what they can do, because in my experience former MPs have quite a lot to offer,” Jennifer reflects “To attract talent into Australian politics and capitalise on the experienced leaders that come out the other side, it’s important that we do talk about this, and support former MPs in transitioning into new leadership roles. Because if there is no life after politics, who would want to enter into this arena in the first place?”
Looking for new leadership opportunities inside or outside of politics? In search of Executive talent with diverse public and private sector experience? Connect with Jennifer Grove, or reach out to your local Gerard Daniels team.