Powerlifting is all about strength and explosive power, it’s a sport where competitors with massive, muscle-ripped bodies lift astonishing weights over their heads. It looks excruciating and the sport’s sweat-filled environment is an unlikely place to find a politician. But it’s a place where Labor’s Tony Zappia feels quite at home.
Zappia, the member for Makin, is a former elite powerlifter. He has held ten national championships as well as various unbroken Australian records.
He immigrated to Australia from Italy with his family as a baby and by the age of 17, Zappia was working full-time at the ANZ bank. He began powerlifting around this time but
soon realised another passion beyond powerlifting – the power of politics. Zappia became a council member for the City of Salisbury in 1977 and was the City’s Mayor from 1997-2007.
Zappia then tackled politics on a larger scale and ran as Labor’s candidate for the seat Makin in 2007. And after an 11-year Liberal stranglehold, Zappia won Makin with a slim margin of 1.4 per cent. But it was a swing to Labor of 7.8 per cent and a crucial victory in taking Labor from opposition to government.
During most of his 35-year career in politics, Tony Zappia has managed to maintain his passion for both powerlifting and fitness. As councilor with the City of Salisbury, Zappia set up three fitness centres and remains a part owner of one. And though he has proved remarkably capable at managing both over the years, Zappia has recently retired from powerlifting to focus solely on politics.
And Zappia’s work in Makin has been noticed by the community. Chad Schulte, who lives within Makin’s boundaries, says he has seen Zappia’s positive influence on the community. ‘It was visible from the start that there was a significant amount of passion and effort put into his work,’ says Schulte. ‘He seems like a nice bloke, genuine and down to earth. I wouldn’t be surprised if he stayed in office for a while longer still.’
The twenty-nine year old Schulte, who has spent the last four years working in the army barracks in Woodside, credits Zappia with helping to save his job. In 2011, the government was considering reducing the defence budget, a decision that could have compromised South Australia’s defence projects — worth around $2 billion and about 28,000 jobs. Zappia set up meetings with federal politicians and reduced the impact of the cuts.
‘Many people in the army believed that a lot of jobs would be laid off, which obviously meant my main source of income would be in danger for my wife and daughter,’ reflected Schulte.
Zappia has more recently become involved in the controversial issue of same-sex marriage. He has been lobbied, along with four Labor lower-house members, to support same-sex marriages by the Australian Marriage Equality (AME) organisation. Though many politicians have shied away from the issue, Zappia was willing to talk with the AME and listen to their concerns.
For Chad Schulte, this is another important issue he hopes Zappia can help with. ‘I actually have a close friend, who is homosexual,’ says Schulte. ‘And same-sex marriage really is a topic that many people find sensitive, and I’m sure they, and he, are keen to hear a successful outcome.’
With no signs or intention of slowing down, the 59 year-old Zappia is hoping he will be able to deliver successful outcomes for many years to come.
Ryan McLaughlin is a student at La Trobe University.
To view profiles of some of the other backbenchers as part of upstart’s Backbench Insiders project, click here.