Amanda Vanstone surprised some when she suddenly ended her successful 23-year political career in 2007, saying it was “important for me to move on to the next phase of my life”.
She has certainly done that.
In the past 11 years the former Senator and Howard Government Minister has served as Australia’s Ambassador to Italy, launched a blossoming media career, joined the Board of the Port Adelaide Football Club, chaired Vision 20/20 Australia, and is currently the Federation Chair and Independent Director of the Australian Royal Flying Doctor Service.
She also returned briefly to the political arena as a member of National Commission of Audit established to improve the Australian Government’s budget.
All the while she has remained distinctly and unmistakably Amanda Vanstone – colourful, engaged, passionate and always ready to do her bit.
That comes in no small part, she says, from her childhood environment in Adelaide. She grew up in a household with a mother, two sisters and just one brother, then went to an all-female school.
“I didn’t see men making decisions and that meant you grew up thinking you will one day make them,” she says.
The decision to enter politics came late, however, and slowly.
After graduating from St Peter’s Girls’ School, Amanda worked in retail and ran her own business while completing degrees in Law and Arts part-time. She later undertook a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice (GDLP) at the then South Australian Institute of Technology to allow her to work as a lawyer.
It was, for her, the perfect mix, and her advice for anyone contemplating a life in politics is to get a good education, then get a job and some experience.
“Learn about life and about people because that’s what politics is about,” she says. “You need that before you go into it.”
Having herself taken time to learn about life meant Amanda was a little older than most of her fellow students in the GDLP program, but she recalls the time with fondness and has particular memories of the day in 1983 when Australia won the America’s Cup.
A few students borrowed a flag from the library and began a march to Rundle Mall that quickly grew.
“We had about a hundred people by the time we got to the beginning of the Mall and I would conservatively estimate 250-300 by the time we got to Beehive Corner – just because people were singing Waltzing Matilda and were happy that we beat the Yanks.”
The following year Amanda was elected to the Senate as its then youngest member and began a career that saw her fill a succession of high-profile Ministerial positions, covering portfolios including employment, justice, immigration and community services.
She also became known for giving a good media interview, which no doubt helped her make the transition to the other side of the microphone.
After filling in as a guest presenter on the ABC Radio National program Counterpoint in 2012, Amanda was appointed to the role full time the following year. The weekly program tackles key social, economic and cultural issues in Australian life, so it really was a perfect fit for someone with so much life experience.
Amanda also is a frequent and in-demand commentator on television and in the print media.
She is very much a national figure, but still South Australian to the core.
Asked in a newspaper interview what she had most missed while living in Italy, she replied, “If someone came with some Haigh’s dark caramels I’d be tripping around the residence, but aside from that it was magpies.”