In South Australia’s March election, Hartley MP Vincent Tarzia will face off against Australia’s most influential independent political figure, Nick Xenophon, who announced his decision to quite federal politics in October.
The shocking notice came just a week before Mr Xenophon’s eligibility was tested in the High Court after he became embroiled in the ongoing dual citizenship saga.
Though the timing of Mr Xenophon’s announcement sparked suspicions that the founder of the Nick Xenophon Team was preparing for a negative result in the hearing, he was later cleared by the High Court of breaching dual citizenship rules in the constitution.
Denying claims that he was pessimistic about his fate in federal politics, Mr Xenophon said his choice to run for the seat of Hartley as leader of SA Best - the name he has given his state grouping - was driven by a desire to provide voters with an alternative, because Labor was leading the state down the wrong path.
To make things even more interesting, former Hartley MP and Labor minister Grace Portolesi recently announced that she will run in the election, seeking to snatch back the seat from Mr Tarzia, who defeated her in 2014.
Despite the arrival of these two new contenders, Mr Tarzia is determined to defend the seat of Hartley and form a reformist Liberal government.
But who is the man at the centre of this exciting three-horse-race? Who is Vincent Tarzia?
Born and raised in South Australia, Mr Tarzia is the product of post-war migration.
His paternal grandparents migrated from Siderno Marina, in Calabria, arriving in South Australia in the 1950s.
Hailing from Altavilla Irpina, in Campania, his maternal grandparents arrived around the same time, settling in the area that Mr Tarzia represents in parliament today.
They were joined by myriad other Italians following World War II, something which is reflected in the demographic of Hartley to this day: more than 20 per cent of residents – that is, more than one in five - in the electorate of Hartley were either born in Italy or have Italian origins.
Proud of his own heritage, Mr Tarzia explained that his grandparents’ inspirational story of migration and sacrifice is something that he continues to draw strength from today.
Growing up surrounded by fervent Italians, it was only natural that Mr Tarzia’s passion for politics was sparked at a young age.
“My family has always had an interest in politics,” he said.
“I still remember as a young child sitting down in front of the TV with my grandfather on a Saturday morning and watching the Italian news and learning about what was happening in Europe.”
This passion was fuelled by Mr Tarzia’s appreciation of the opportunities granted to his family - and other migrant families - by the nation they have come to call home.
“It was drilled into me from a young age to not only look after one’s self, but to also look after the people around you,” he explained.
“That sense of giving and giving back was always instilled in me.”
So, the ambitious 31-year-old set out to do just that.
Mr Tarzia attended St Joseph’s School Payneham and Rostrevor College, before completing degrees in law and commerce at the University of Adelaide.
Upon graduating, he went on to work in the financial, legal and commercial sectors, before entering politics in 2010 as a Councillor of the City of Norwood, Payneham and St Peters.
He was then elected as a candidate for the Liberal Party in 2012, winning the seat of Hartley in 2014.
“From that day I’ve dedicated every single day to the people I represent in Hartley, not only through large infrastructure projects, but also by liaising with local councils and residents,” Mr Tarzia said.
“I’ve ensured that I’ve always been a very hard-working, accessible local MP who does whatever they can to help people on a day-to-day basis, really providing that personal touch.
“If someone calls my campaign number it goes straight to my phone, or if someone writes an email on the website it’s directed straight to me.”
Mr Tarzia added that he draws on his law and commerce skills to lobby and fight for the needs and desires of local residents, great and small.
“Politics is a great way of being able to make the local area the best that it can be and I’m very passionate about the state and local area that I represent,” he said.
“It’s where I’ve grown up, it’s where my family is, and it’s an area which has given so much to our family.”
When it comes to the bigger picture, Mr Tarzia hopes to win back the seat of Hartley because he believes it’s time for a change of government after nearly 16 years of Labor in South Australia.
“A vote for Nick Xenophon’s SA Best party is a real risk because it could result in electing a Labor government, which could mean 20 years of Labor in South Australia,” he argued.
“The best outcome for the people of our state is a reformist Liberal government to get the state back on track.”
That said, Mr Tarzia welcomes Ms Portolesi’s decision to contend for the seat of Hartley, and is more than prepared for the contest.
“It’s well-known that Labor has always run a strong campaign in Hartley and I don’t take anyone or anything for granted; I respect all of my political opponents, and I certainly expect a fight,” he said.
While a recent Galaxy robopoll in Hartley, from a sample of 516, had Xenophon leading the Liberals by 53-47, Mr Tarzia is determined to come out on top and continue to serve his community.
“It’s going to be a mighty task but I’ve never had it easy in politics – I’ve had to fight and work hard for everything I’ve achieved,” he explained.
“I have faith in the people of Hartley and my voters that they can see how hard we work and how dedicated I am to the local seat.
“I’m not trying to run a federal or state party or play political games; I’m here working hard and representing my local people to the best of my ability every day.”
While it’s hard to tell who the votes will fall in favour of in March, one thing is for sure: Mr Tarzia will fight hard till the day South Australians take to the polls.