Seasoned political fighter back for round two of his career
SIX MONTHS after he resigned in disgrace from NSW Parliament in 2011, Steve Cansdell's Queensland kayak trip took a turn for the worse.
His resignation after he admitted to signing a false statutory declaration to escape a speeding fine six years earlier, had not only stripped him of his seat but had opened him up to vicious attacks on his honesty and integrity.
Although he had immediately confessed to police and resigned from parliament overnight, the police failure to investigate the charges kept the attention on him.
"I was 10km off the coast of Hervey Bay in my kayak, in March and it was still going on," he said.
"They were talking about raising it in parliament again and I was just over it.
"My whole rudder system collapsed and it blew up to about a 30-knot wind and I was stuck on a mud flat about 500m from Fraser Island. It was all mud and mangroves so I couldn't go there.
"I made a phone call to some friends to say it was low tide and I had some time."
The friends said they were at Gympie, but would get their boat and come and get him by 6.30pm.
"Seven o'clock come. The tide's coming in. It's getting dark. At 7.30pm it's pitch black. There's a little bit of moon and the water's up to my knees and the wind's blowing and I'm hanging onto that kayak."
"My phone had fallen into the water. It was gone. So I had no way of communicating."
In desperation, Mr Cansdell decided he would get back on the kayak and see where the conditions took him.
"As I was preparing to go the thought suddenly struck me, 'At least if I go down, I don't have to put up with any more of this sh-t'."
Almost immediately help came. "It was about 7.45pm when I heard my friends' boat," he said.
"It was really lucky. I had gone off on a weekend kayaking trip when I realised I hadn't brought a torch with me.
"I was at a garage and saw a little $10 halogen job, so I bought that.
"I pulled this little torch out and started flicking the light at the boat. They saw me and picked me up."
Mr Cansdell has never attempted to hide from what he did but does plead for some perspective.
"The reality is I didn't cop a $5000 bottle of Grange and try to hide it, I didn't cop a $10,000 cash donation under the table in a brown paper bag as one of the star Liberal members down at Newcastle did," Mr Cansdell said.
"I didn't do any of these things for money. I did these things at the time not realising the gravity of the situation.
"I did it to keep my licence so I could keep going from town to town for the job.
"I could have and I should have, in hindsight, I should have said 'Bugger it, take the licence off me for three months or six months,' whatever it was."
He said he had some misgivings when one of his staffers offered to take the rap for him and say she was driving the car when it was detected speeding.
"I had a staffer at the time - and my other staffer would confirm this - and she offered to do it," he said.
"I said 'No', but she said 'You've got a very important job, you need your licence' and they were her words.
"And I said 'Yeah'.
"I didn't worry because at the time I didn't think it was a criminal offence.
"It might have been naughty. Like speeding. Fine me. I'll get fined. It was total ignorance.
"But like I said yesterday, ignorance is no excuse when you break the law."
Mr Cansdell said the cost for his indiscretion was huge.
"I paid a huge penalty. Monetarily alone it was massive," he said.
"It was my children's inheritance if I'd stayed in the job for another eight years.
"Plus I loved that job. I helped so many people. Little people that you don't get write ups for. Things that I deadset loved doing.
"I think it was Janelle Saffin's husband rang me up and said, 'Cansdell what have you done? What about all your constituents that rely on you? Withdraw your resignation'."
Mr Cansdell has always been a stickler for law and order, so he viewed his appointment as Parliamentary Secretary to the Police Minister as a role close to his heart.
"When that was taken away, I thought if it's serious enough to take that away, I'll get out of parliament," he said.
"Because they would have just run on it. It was one of those things my family would have had to put up with that continual harassment.
"The party would have had to try and defend themselves against it. Because that was the first fall from grace for the new government.
"I just had to wear that. There was no other option.
"I thought if I resign, take it to the police, it was finished. Let the courts deal with it."
Seven years in the political wilderness has brought their changes for Mr Cansdell, including a surprise marriage to a Vietnamese seamstress, named Thu, he met during a visit to Stockholm.
"I met this group of people over there and we spent some time together," he said.
"She was married to someone else at the time and I remember joking that she should leave him and marry me."
He said some time went by where they kept a penfriend relationship going. But all that changed around 2016.
"By April last year - on Thu's 49th birthday - we were married," he said.
"It wasn't something I'd wanted or planned, but it's absolutely beautiful.
"All my children think the world of her and she loves the kids." But it's been a long-distance marriage so far, as Thu continues to manage her business in Ho Chi Minh City.
The couple are planning for her to come to Clarence Valley for a three-month holiday staying in the renovated church at Ulmarra where Mr Cansdell has lived and worked in recent years.
But he thinks living through an election campaign might not be a good thing for her.
"The Nationals are quite able to play rough if they look like losing the seat," Mr Cansdell said.
"I don't think where she's from they quite understand the rough and tumble of our democratic process."
Mr Cansdell is under no illusion a political comeback will be hard work.
"My daughter, Emma, when I told her said 'Dad have you got a bad memory?'
"But I said there's so much you can do in there (parliament). "One of the haters said you're just putting your head back in the trough.
"But in reality with the job I've got and the pension I get I'll only be a couple of hundred dollars better off.
"I won't have my weekends. If you're serious about this job - and you've got to be - you've got to go places, be seen, be accessible to people.
"They want the little things done. They're the things that count for the little people you represent, so it's a full-time job."
The response he has received from the community convinced him he has made the right choice.
"The phone's been ringing constantly with people saying 'Go for it Steve'.
"Just this morning I've had ... a senior National ring up to say how glad they were to see I was running again.
"It makes me think we've got a real shot at winning."