As the 55th Parliament of NSW enters its final days, senior MPs from all major parties are handing in their resignations. A changing of the guard is underway.

Two former premiers, Liberal Barry O’Farrell (March 2011-April 2014) and Labor’s Nathan Rees (September 2008-December 2009), have decided to throw in the towel.

Rees, 46, starts his new job as CEO of the Public Education Foundation next month, promising to develop the non-for-profit body’s mission of awarding scholarships to needy students. “A strong and powerful public education system is vital to a functioning democracy,” he said.

O’Farrell’s post-political career remains unclear, and current media speculation  involves a job quite unconnected with assisting a functioning democracy. His name has been linked to a development and marketing position with the National Rugby League, which would be a temporary staging post before O’Farrell relaunches his political career in Canberra.

Since leaving university at the age of 21, O’Farrell has been engaged in politics, first as a lowly adviser, then as a NSW state director, opposition leader and ultimately premier. His family is soaked in politics. Wife Rosemary is the daughter of the late Bruce Cowan, who served in NSW politics for 14 years before transferring to Canberra to serve another 13 years.

With Philip Ruddock, 71, and Bronwyn Bishop, 72, both expected to retire from their Sydney north shore seats at the next federal election in 2016, the popular O’Farrell would be well placed to make a political comeback.

The other senior Liberal quitting at the March 28 election is Robyn Parker, the former environment minister, who has served 12 years in the upper and lower houses. Her departure from the seat of Maitland will mean the end of Liberal Party presence in the Hunter.

Chris Hatcher, MP for Terrigal, a survivor of the Greiner-Fahey era and a major factional player with the hard Right, will not recontest after a bruising encounter at the Independent Commission Against Corruption over donation scandals.

Greg Smith SC, MP for Epping and the former deputy director of the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions, is standing down in favour of his son Nathaniel, who faces a preselection contest on Wednesday night.

Another MP likely to quit is Attorney-General Brad Hazzard, MP for Wakehurst on Sydney’s northern beaches. As a last hurrah, he appointed right-wing Labor’s John Hatzistergos as a District Court judge at the end of last week. It was generally regarded as a “thank you” to the former ALP attorney-general, nicknamed “Hatz ’n’ coats”, for his report to the government recommending a severe tightening of bail conditions in NSW.

If Premier Mike Baird wins the election, he will almost certainly offer the law portfolio to Cronulla MP Mark Speakman SC, a 54-year-old newcomer with one of Parliament’s sharpest legal minds.

Apart from Rees, the other Labor MPs standing down are Richard Amery (Mount Druitt), Barry Collier (Miranda), Cherie Burton (Rockdale) and Robert Furolo (Lakemba).

The Nationals are losing three heavyweights — former leaders Andrew Stoner (Oxley) and George Souris (Upper Hunter), and former local government minister Don Page (Ballina), grandson of former Australian prime minister Sir Earle Page.

Labor’s focus is on winning back at least 15 seats after the utter humiliation of the election in March 2011. They are Londonderry, Riverstone, Granville, Mulgoa, Heathcote, Rockdale, Newcastle, Charlestown, Swansea, Lake Macquarie, The Entrance, Wyong, Gosford, Kiama and perhaps Monaro, based in Queanbeyan.

That’s just enough to take Labor’s presence in the Legislative Assembly to 35, but not enough to save Labor Leader John Robertson’s future as party leader.