If Sam Dastyari is feeling down about his future, he’s not showing it. The former senator is all smiles as he welcomes me into his home, urging me to grab a promotional CPC stubby holder from an enormous pile by the front door. He brings me into his opulent living room, tastefully appointed with modern Scandinavian furniture, ferns, and several floor-to-ceiling posters of his own face.
“Am I depressed about leaving the Senate?” Dastyari asks, before I have a chance to speak. “Hell no! In a way, it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” I ask him, tentatively, in what way that is. “It’s going to free up a lot of time for me to pursue my passions.”
Wasn’t being a senator his passion? “Oh no, that was really just a side project. To be honest, I was hoping that I would be forced to resign soon. Subconsciously, I probably did it on purpose.”
So what are these passions? “Well, first of all, there’s my family,” Dastyari says, gesturing to his wife and two daughters, who are busy hanging another poster of him on the one bare wall. “Remember the video I made with the girls, ‘Fairfax Management with My Little Pony’? I’m planning to do a whole series of them, explaining various elements of industrial relations and the labour movement. Protected Strike Action with Bratz. Collective Bargaining with Sylvanian Families. I think it could start a real revolution in the union movement.”
Speaking of the union movement, the ex-senator has spoken of his desire to remain involved in grassroots politics. How does he envision that happening? “I’m glad you asked,” Dastyari says, leaping to his feet. He begins pacing the room, gesticulating wildly. “I want to start working with local Labor branches, transforming them into slick machines. I want to make sure every branch office has a truck serving halal snack packs 24 hours a day. I want the rank and file members to feel empowered” — on the word “empowered” he leaps violently into the air — “to make change in this world. That’s why I’m starting the Labor Buddy System. Under this system, every individual who joins the Labor Party will be paired with a Buddy in the rank and file membership of the Chinese Communist Party. I’m all about building connections.”
Couldn’t this system possibly exacerbate perceptions that Dastyari is too close to China? “Hey man,” he exclaims, putting on sunglasses, “I’m not about perception. I’m not about popularity. For me, it’s about doing what’s right.” He emphasises the point by handing me a signed photo of himself giving two thumbs up.
The interview is interrupted by Dastyari taking a phone call from an associate. Halfway through the conversation his phone rings, and the documentary film crew that has been shooting since I arrived has to cut. “Sorry,” he says. He explains the crew is there for an upcoming ABC special titled “On Dasher: The Life of a Political Reindeer”. It’s just one of several projects he has on the boil in the television space.
“The one I’m most excited about is Sam’s Garden. It’s a chat show where I invite prominent Australians into my garden and quiz them about their daily lives. Then at the end I try to sign them up for Avon. You’d be surprised how many do it! There’s also a segment where I give tips on growing cacti, and a cooking bit where Maeve O’Meara and I wrestle.” He is also set to host a new panel show, The Dastyari Disturbance, in which Dastyari and four entertainers exchange witty banter about the week’s major real estate development deals.
There’s no doubt the former senator has a lot on his plate, but how does he relax? He responds to the question with a blank stare. I elaborate: how does he spend his downtime? He continues to stare blankly. Does he have any hobbies? He comes back to life. “Oh yes! I enjoy fundraising, number-crunching, consolidating power bases, the usual stuff.” I start to explain that that’s not really what I meant, but before I can, the director of the documentary ushers me out of the house. “Mr Dastyari,” he explains, “is ready for his close-up.”