• Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull with North Sydney Liberal candidate Trent Zimmerman. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Trent Zimmerman will be the first openly gay man elected to the House of Representatives if he wins the North Sydney by-election this month. He'd also be helping put to rest the myth that you can't be both gay and a successful conservative politician.
By
Drew Sheldrick

4 Dec 2015 - 2:54 PM  UPDATED 4 Dec 2015 - 2:54 PM

The NSW state Parliament has its fair share of gay conservatives. In federal Parliament, West Australian Senator Dean Smith has been flying that flag for sometime also. But it'd be quite the affirmation to have the first openly gay man elected to Australia's House of Representatives be from the conservative side of politics.

Gone are the days the Liberal party would simply throw gay male candidates at unwinnable inner city seats like Sydney. In October, former vice president of the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Business Association Trent Zimmerman won Liberal preselection for North Sydney and, at this stage, is the frontrunner for the blue ribbon Liberal seat at a by-election on December 5.

The 47-year-old would replace former treasurer Joe Hockey following his resignation from Parliament in September. Zimmerman was a former staffer for Hockey, as well as a North Sydney councillor and acting president of the NSW Liberals.

"I obviously recognise that if I'm successful on December 5 I'll be the first openly gay person in the House of Reps."

He said he believes the party's already gone a long way in smashing the myth that you can't be both gay and a successful conservative politician.

"I think that's been shown already and I'm proud of the fact that the Liberal party has already put the first openly gay man in the NSW Lower House [Member for Coogee Bruce Notley-Smith] and has people like Dean Smith in the federal Senate," he said.

"But I obviously recognise that if I'm successful on December 5 I'll be the first openly gay person in the House of Reps. That will be, i hope, an historic moment for the Parliament but also for the Liberal party."

One thing that separates Zimmerman from his former boss is that he's a strong supporter of same-sex marriage (Mr Hockey said he wouldn't vote in favour of marriage rights for same-sex couples because he didn't believe it would be the "best outcome for children"). He said he believed Parliament would have been the right place to decide the issue.

"If I'd been in the Parliament I would have been arguing strongly for a free vote."

"[Joe Hockey and I] obviously disagreed, sometimes vehemently, on marriage equality, but beyond that he was always exceptionally supportive and encouraged me to put my hand up for the by-election," he said.

"If I'd been in the Parliament I would have been arguing strongly for a free vote - that the Parliament should have decided it - but we have the plebiscite now and I'll be arguing in North Sydney and more broadly for the 'yes' case."

Zimmerman got an early start in politics, using his work experience component at school to assist former NSW Premier Nick Greiner, who was then leader of the opposition. But even before witnessing NSW politics up close, he said he was drawn to public service following the example set by his parents.

"My father was a teacher and, for a time, principal at a boarding school. I saw him working, even at a relatively affluent school, with kids who had emotionaly difficulties. He taught me the value of community service, as did my mother," he said. 

"If me being in the House of Reps makes it a little easier for people that are going through that process, that will be a matter of some pride."

After many years behind-the-scenes in politics, it appears Zimmerman's ducks are all in a row for that historic entrance into the green-carpeted halls of the House of Representatives. The Liberals currently hold North Sydney by almost 16 per cent and with Labor unlikely to run a candidate, his chances are greatly improved.

If he does win, it would be seen as a victory not just for LGBTI representation in federal Parliament, but one over the progressive side of politics' perceived dominance on issues such as diversity and equality.

"I recognise that we still live in a world where a lot of people struggle to cope with their sexuality, so if me being in the House of Reps makes it a little easier for people that are going through that process, that will be a matter of some pride," he said.