SAM DASTYAR
The poorly ex-senator. Image credit: Ben Rushton/AAP.

Chinese whispers of his demise were, unfortunately, greatly exaggerated. After an exile slightly longer than human gestation, the self-proclaimed Labor Party “bagman” is back at it.

In an exclusive interview with Joe Hildebrand via Stellar magazine last weekend, former Senator Sam Dastyari reflected on his political afterlife. Doing his own version of the sad-clown complex, he joked about being a tight-arse and accepting perks from foreign interests. The words “sorry” or “wrong” were carefully omitted.  

And while depression and excessive drinking are serious matters, the article proved little more than a thinly veiled plug for his imminent Channel Ten debut.

Though Hildebrand named scandal as his disease, Relevance Deprivation Syndrome is the likely diagnosis for ex-politicians of Dasher’s ilk.

Hardly a new concept, the phrase was coined by chronic sufferer, former foreign minister and Cheryl Kernot puppeteer Gareth Evans. The symptoms are startling and the patient list long. From Mark Latham to Tony Windsor, John Hewson and Jeff Kennett to K-Rudd, they are the once-weres who struggle to let go of the blue-carpet life.

Their days, once filled with ministerial cars, departmental briefings and brisk mornings at the doors, now reduced to endless hours at Aussie’s cafe, waiting to be noticed.  

Clambering to re-enter the fray, they’re easy prey for journalists seeking a quick, incendiary quote. They strut into their local branch meetings like a self-anointed demi-god in moleskins, punctuating proceedings with an overly enthusiastic “hear, hear”. In the midst of a crisis, they’ll hit the phones to more powerful colleagues to offer unsolicited, and often unappreciated, counsel. Their calls are always screened.

When they roll up to a party function – a few wines deep — they scoff when name tags omit “The Honourable”. Or when they’re offered a name tag at all. While they may jostle for a return to the chamber or a glamorous overseas posting, they are the state party presidents of the future and federal council nominees for powerbrokers in a pinch. They turn up to budget night parties and no one quite understands why. And after drinking all the good red, they will not go gentle into that goodnight.

However, Dastyari has become patient zero for a new malignant strain. Relevance Deprivation Syndrome has evolved beyond ghost-authored autobiographies or obscure election night appearances. It has become paid bombshell interviews and regular television gigs.

Despite all the recent criticism levelled at them, Sky News are pioneers of this emerging trend through Beattie and Campbell and Richo.

After his inevitable resignation, we may see Barnaby Joyce as the new Dr Phil. In his signature style, Kevin Rudd could knife Catriona Rowntree to become the supreme leader of Getaway: The United Nations Edition. Or Tony Abbott donning his speedos and stopping the boats in his own Baywatch.

While potentially as entertaining as he is vaguely unprincipled, Dastyari’s Disgrace! stands to be a protracted exercise in attention seeking.

But short-term political notoriety is no ticket to life-long celebrity. Despite the concerted and continued efforts of some politicians to prove otherwise, public service is a noble and worthy pursuit.

The Hawkes and Howards, who shun post-political publicity except to offer occasional sage advice or down a pint, have preserved their status as statesmen. They are the subjects of Monday night ABC specials and inspire begrudging bipartisan respect.

After years of careful and considered public contributions, they have a healthy respect for their own reputation. Moreover, after a near lifetime in pursuit of parliamentary service, they value meaningful political discourse in this country.

The example Dastyari set in his initial misdemeanours, and the one he is setting now, is cause for reflection. The easy cross-contamination of politics and celebrity serves only to cheapen the process. At a time when constituents are tuning out, we cannot continue to indulge such ego and desperation.

Politics may be the show business of ugly people but, please, don’t call us, we’ll call you.

Chelsey Potter, a former Liberal staffer, has endured opposition, survived government and writes about politics.

Peter Fray

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