Not long after Terri Butler conceded in Griffith, she changed her Twitter bio to read “available for lunch”. It seemed to reflect Butler’s laconic humour and to signify a determination to move on with life.

But there is another explanation. When I spoke to Terri Butler recently she said there was a particular reason for her changed bio. She said that over her years of work as a lawyer, and in Parliament, she’d had very little time for herself and to socialise with her friends, so she decided she would try to schedule a luncheon with her friends every quarter, but that didn’t always happen.

“One of the things about being a mum of young kids and a member of parliament in a marginal seat and a shadow minister, and a daughter of parents who have got their own issues, including my dad having lung cancer. One of the consequences of all of that, is you have no time for yourself.”

So, all of a sudden, here I was at liberty and available for lunch for the first time in at least a decade, probably for thirteen years. I was available for lunch and wanted to say to people, “Let’s do it. Let’s have some leisure time. Let’s catch up”, and honestly so many people are picking up on it.”

Ms Butler said that she conceded in Griffith the day after the election when the result was clear.

“I was elected three times, and so I had many candidates stand against me, and almost none of them ever got in touch with me to formally concede. And I thought, “I’m going to do this right”. So partly about that, and then changing my Twitter bio.”

Does politics change you?

We reflected on her time in Parliament, and I asked if being in politics had changed her.

“In public life, you’re exposed to a lot of people who are in pain which I think has an impact on you if you have empathy.

“If you’re in an occupation where you’re a counsellor or a medical professional, whatever the case might be, you’re constantly exposed to pain. I think that changes you.

“The other thing that you see a lot more of in public life than you probably do in a private occupation, or at least from my experiences, is bad actors: people who are malicious, and there’s a higher threat level.”

Ms Butler said that since the murder of UK Labour MP Jo Cox in 2016, she has been a bit more alive to the risks of public life.

“And you can’t let that stop you. But it’s always there in the back of your mind. And so, one of the great reliefs of not being in public life is the threat level decreases.”

Labor loses Griffith, but wins Government

Butler was in opposition for her eight years in Parliament. I asked if it was galling that when Labor had finally won majority Government, she could not participate.

“It’s actually not galling that Labor has a majority and I’m not there. I would have been much more unhappy if Labor didn’t win more seats than the Coalition, and I was still there. So, for me, the question is, “were the policies that we took, the messages that we used, the values that we displayed, the right values to win a majority of seats in the House of Representatives?” That’s the fundamental question, and the answer is ‘yes’. And so, for me, I felt relief. On election night I was dancing on the stage. It was the best feeling to know that we would have an Albanese Labor government. I spoke to Anthony that night, and he was so levelheaded; he knew he was ready to go. It’s a good feeling to know that the country has a good, decent person as Prime Minister.”

Ms Butler said it is unsurprising that many people have reassessed their opinion of Anthony Albanese since he took office.

“Anthony has a very strong spine. He is very courageous. He knows exactly what he would like to see happen. And at the same time is genuinely consultative. And his values are the right values. Everything you see with Anthony is what you get.”

Regarding Labor’s approach to the next election in Griffith, Butler said that while she is still a member of her local branch, “It’s just not up to me. I’m not going to be running a campaign in three years.”

Butler considers The Greens ran a high-risk strategy in Griffith by making “massive promises and inflating expectations.”

“Good luck to them. But at the end of the day the high-risk strategy of stoking anger to win votes means that the anger can pretty easily be turned against them if they don’t deliver, and they’ve got no one to blame. If their argument was that I, as a Federal Opposition MP, could control the actions of the Federal government in relation to aircraft noise from Opposition, well, then surely that same standard applies to them.”

Regarding The Green’s policies, such as getting dental into Medicare, Ms Butler said everyone should be very interested in expanding Medicare.

“I also think that we shouldn’t underestimate the damage of a near decade of Coalition governments in gutting public services. And so, the new government has some big challenges ahead of it to restore bulk billing, to create opportunity for people to get primary health care.”

“Look at my portfolio areas, the Liberals cut the Environment Department funding by 40 per cent. And so, after nearly a decade of underfunding public services, the new Labor government has to come in and somehow right the ship and then turn the ship around.

“I think it’s important not to live in a world where you ignore the practical impediments and pretend that everything’s possible immediately.”

Achievements and regrets

Ms Butler said as Shadow Assistant Minister for Equality, marriage equality was the achievement she was most proud of during her time in Parliament.

“It was never inevitable. We had to fight.”

“I was very proud that we got it done. And to be honest, it was the hardest day I had in Parliament. We were on our feet all day in the House. Everyone was moving amendments, the Libs, The Greens, all sorts of amendments, and we knew that if even one of those amendments passed, then the Bill wouldn’t pass the House.

“I was genuinely worried that if we didn’t get it through the House that day, it just wouldn’t happen. It would get obfuscation and all sorts of shenanigans back in the Senate… It was a great relief when we got enough votes on every single vote.”

Ms Butler said her biggest regret was that they couldn’t stop the plebiscite on same-sex marriage.

“I worked incredibly hard to avoid the plebiscite, not successfully. My biggest regret is that we weren’t able to stop that, but we weren’t in government. You can’t stop the Liberals from doing bad things all the time.

“It was incredibly harmful.”

Life after Politics

Public service is still important to Ms Butler. She has recently accepted the role of chair of Circular Australia, an independent not-for-profit company seeking to accelerate the transition to a circular economy.

“It’s very obvious that we need to reduce waste and that we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That’s something that is very clear to everyone who’s been paying attention. On greenhouse gas emissions, obviously, the pointy end is energy transition. But there are other things that we can do to reduce emissions as well, and one of those is to increase the circularity of our economy.”

Ms Butler said this is not just about recycling. “It’s also about decoupling economic growth from resources.”

“You do that by designing out waste. That might be packaging, but it’s also things like making things last longer, thinking about the quality of components. And then there’s a question of, how do you encourage behavioural change. A big piece that the organisation is really interested in, relates to helping businesses that want to increase circularity in their own practices, whether it’s in the supply chain, whether it’s in the reuse of materials. And that’s really important because of course, we shouldn’t put it all back on individual citizens to take responsibility for emissions reduction or for waste reduction. We should look at the opportunities for business and for organisations, and for governments.”

For someone who has recently announced she is available for lunch, Ms Butler is still keeping busy, and she has kept some patronages that are important to her. For example, she is a patron of the World Wellness Group’s Refugee & Asylum Seeker Health.

“This incredible organisation does terrific work, and so my intention is to assist them wherever I can.”

She is also a patron of the Norman Park National Servicemens Sub Branch, the Bulimba Community Centre, and Labor for Refugees Queensland, as well as an active union member. Each of these groups is reflected in her now updated Twitter bio.

“I’m staying involved with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).

In June Ms Butler participated remotely at the Meeting of States Parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons held in Vienna.

“It’s important to me. I was one of the only MPs who spoke at a rally in support of Australia entering the treaty.

Ms Butler is also doing some private consultancy work.

“I’m not talking about political lobbying, but assisting organisations with different problems, helping with problem-solving, which is terrific; it’s great to be back in business again.”

And, Ms Butler plans to continue living in her local community.

“My kids are 10 and 12; they go to local schools. My dad is reliant on local health services. So yes, I fully intend to stay in this community.”

I first interviewed Terri Butler for No Fibs when she was the Labor candidate for Griffith in the 2014 by-election. That story was republished by The Westender and as our local member, Ms Butler was always available to this small publication for comment and to provide electorate updates.

Read more Griffith stories, including a recent interview with new member, Max Chandler-Mather, at this link: