It became official at 11.20am yesterday. Troy Buswell handed a letter to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, Mt Lawley MLA Michael Sutherland, and so brought down the final curtain on one of WA’s most extraordinary political careers.
At 3.30pm, driven by a staffer, Mr Buswell arrived at Colin Barnett’s office at Hale House in West Perth and delivered news that disappointed but did not surprise the Premier.
“What I said to him was that I have been thinking for some time about my long-term future in politics,” Mr Buswell said yesterday.
“I never signed up to be a career politician but events of the last six months have really highlighted to me that the condition I have to live with and public life are just not compatible.”
That condition — revealed by Mr Buswell to the world in May — is bipolar depression.
And those events — a bout of unexplained personal leave, a string of car crashes after a Kings Park wedding, a contentious police investigation and charges, a difficult return to Parliament with a press conference in which the former treasurer declined to address the events of that night, and the political wrangling over the resulting insurance claims — have dominated WA politics for six months. Now it is all over.
Mr Buswell said he would not give a news conference and intends to disappear until after the by-election for Vasse.
He does not have a job lined up and does not know what he will do next but at 48 wants to build a career after politics.
“What is obvious to me, now that I am feeling a lot better, is that public life and the way I have to manage the medical condition that I’ve got are just not compatible,” Mr Buswell said.
“In many ways, regrettably, I feel I’ve lost the passion for the job and the desire. And to continue is just definitely not in my best interest and I don’t think it’s in the Liberal Party or the Government’s best interests.
“And I know for a fact it’s not in my constituents’ best interests.”
When he returned to Parliament in May, Mr Buswell refused to address events of February 22-23, batting away dozens of questions with variations on the same answer: that police dealt with the matter and he had no comment.
Yesterday, he said he understood people’s interest in the night but still refuses to discuss what happened — including whether he was drunk, what he remembers and what happened in the immediate aftermath.
“I’m just not going to revisit that in any detail,” he said. “Everybody knows that damage was caused to motor vehicles.
“That’s been investigated thoroughly, I’ve been fined, had my licence suspended, paid for the damage and as far as I’m concerned that event is done and I have to move on from it.”
RESIGNING AS TREASURER
When Mr Buswell called the Premier on the afternoon of Sunday, March 9, reporters from The West Australian and Channel 7 had already called his staff and Mr Barnett’s office about what they knew of the driving incident.
The news was about to break and the trigger for Mr Buswell’s unexplained absence was about to be revealed. Asked yesterday if he thought he could get away with it until the media found out, Mr Buswell said the thought was not in his mind at the time.
“It wasn’t something I was giving any consideration to,” he said. “I was trying to understand what the hell was happening to me, as were the people around me.
“It just wasn’t an issue that occupied my time. I was trying to come to grips with some pretty confronting realities.
“I was struggling to understand what was happening.”
Mr Buswell said that at that point he made the decision he had to resign from the ministry because of his health and planned to visit his doctor on the Monday and inform the Premier on the Tuesday.
Mr Buswell said his health had improved markedly since his initial diagnosis.
“I have to develop a pretty solid lifestyle plan to deal with my health issues,” he said.
“What does that involve? It involves ongoing medical care, it involves medication, importantly it involves better decisions around diet and exercise, sleep, time to relax and also making sure I have a good group of people to support me.
“It’s been a big change.
“Sometimes I think if I had the knowledge I have today five or 10 years ago when I went into politics, my career could have been completely different. But I can’t look in the rear vision mirror and analyse what’s happened. I have to look forward.
“And I actually feel pretty positive about the future and my capacity to make a contribution in whatever area that turns out to be. But that just can’t be in public life.
“The level of scrutiny and pressure are just not compatible with me being able to do that job.”
Mr Buswell’s voice broke and his eyes welled with tears as he spoke about his relationship with Colin Barnett.
“I won’t go into the details of it but it was very, very hard,” he said of his conversation with Mr Barnett yesterday.
“Yeah, that’s a tough conversation. This is my 10th year as an MP. I’ve been a friend of the Premier’s and he’s been a good friend of mine, from the day I started. Having to have those conversations, they’re hard. I don’t want to let him down.”
Asked if he felt unfairly pursued by the media, Mr Buswell said: “That’s a very interesting question.”
Asked if the media had one set of rules for him and another for everyone else, he said: “Well, there is, I think, some people (in the media) have actually written that there is.
“Is it unfair? It is what it is. You would never have heard me grumble, unless there’s a factual error. You’ve just got to take that on the chin.
“It’s part of the job.”
Mr Buswell said he had been blessed with first-class medical care and a supportive network of family, friends and staff to assist his recovery.
“One of the things that’s been the most empowering in the last four to five months is the number of people who come up in the street and want to share their story about their journey (with mental illness) to you — I suppose because it’s useful for them but also because they are on the same journey.
“The sad thing is, and I realised this in hospital, there’s thousands and thousands of people who live in social isolation who don’t have access to that. You just feel for them and how on earth do they navigate through the system with that lack of support.”
Asked how he believed the public viewed him, Mr Buswell said it was not for him to say.
“It would be a bit arrogant of me to assume how people think about me,” he said. “A lot of people have formed views and that’s fine. I can’t control what people’s views are, so it’s not something I can influence.”
Despite the great personal cost, including the end of his marriage and national ridicule, he did not “for a moment” regret entering politics.
“It’s the best thing I could have done,” he said. “Was it worth it? Absolutely. Were there things I could have done differently? Probably a couple of things. But that’s life.
“You’re never going to get, I hope, to a situation where you knock the edges off everyone who goes into Parliament so they fit in the right-shaped hole. Because that would be a bit of a sad outcome.
“And there’s a bit of pressure to do that. I don’t think I’ve ever done that. Not purposely.
“You are what you are and thank heavens we’re a collective of individuals because the communities we represent are collections of individuals. And we all have our peculiarities.
“And that’s what we should be in Parliament.”