Zenda Casey reminds us what it's like to be left behind

WE are tough on politicians in Australia.

We should have high expectations, of course. People are elected to represent us, to govern us, to make laws in the public interest and to provide leadership on big issues.

They are remunerated well, at most levels. A federal backbencher pulls in about $200,000 in 2018, with plenty of additional benefits and allowances.

At state level the pay is not much less, and the benefits as accommodating.

But in recent months we have seen displays of real emotion from politicians at state and federal level. The citizenship debacle has forced politicians to reveal things in their lives that many would no doubt prefer to have remained hidden. The same sex marriage debates revealed the pain many politicians have suffered for years because their sexuality had to be kept hidden.

Many politicians have spoken eloquently in state and federal parliaments about the deaths of loved ones. In other words, despite the facades they adopt to give the impression that power sits gently on their shoulders, politicians are human too, with all the emotional freight that goes with that.

In recent weeks we have watched as the messy personal life of Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce has been exposed. For months Mr Joyce blocked media attempts to clarify the circumstances of his marriage breakdown, and rumours of a relationship with a younger staffer. Then there were rumours of a baby.

When the story broke, with a photograph of a very pregnant Vicki Campion, it was Mr Joyce’s former wife Natalie who reminded us of the family left behind, and the woman who put her life on hold to be the parent who stayed at home.

On Sunday Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen’s former wife Zenda spoke for the first time about the devastation of her marriage of 30 years ending, only months after supporting her husband to fill George Souris’s place in NSW Parliament.

No doubt many will say it’s a private matter, but we must be careful not to use that as an excuse to not explore bigger issues.

Zenda Casey, as she is now known, has held the way we do politics – with politicians required to be away from home for extended periods, and available in a world of 24-hour news – responsible for taking over their lives.

Only a woman who is paying the price for that political culture can tell us that.

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