I wasn’t sure what to expect when I sat down for lunch with Tim James, the 362nd person I’ve met on my quest to have lunch with 500 strangers.

Tim is a politician – he’s the state Member for Willoughby and the Shadow Minister for Fair Trading, Work Health & Safety and Building.

Tim, it turned out, is also a very nice guy who really cares about people and is genuinely open to listening to different viewpoints. He’s very interested in local and national policy issues and believes deeply in several core principles, including individual liberty, personal responsibility and the importance of empowering people to take control of their lives (rather than conditioning them to expect government to solve every problem).

Interestingly, while Tim believes governments play an important role in shaping society, he says politicians have less power than many people realise. The system, in the form of the public service, ultimately has more day-to-day control, he says.

Tim was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in 2022 at a by-election to replace the outgoing member, Gladys Berejiklian. He previously held a series of roles in the private sector, including a stint as CEO of Medicines Australia, the peak industry association for the pharmaceutical sector.

When Tim was in high school, he became very interested in economics and government policy, and his economics teacher suggested he might like to join a political party. He wrote to the Liberals, Labor, the Greens and the Democrats to request party programs: the Liberals’ material resonated with him so he became a member of the Young Liberals.

While Tim was at university, he volunteered to work for Joe Hockey (who, years later, would become federal treasurer) during the 1996 federal election campaign. After the election, Tim served as an electorate officer for Hockey; and then, from 1997-2002, as an electorate officer for the prime minister, John Howard. Decades later, during the 2023 state election, Howard campaigned on his behalf.

Moments after we met, Tim told me: “The world would be a better place if more people were doing what you’re doing.” He thinks that with technology increasingly reducing the amount of face-to-face connection we have, there’s something powerful about physically meeting with people, learning from them and being exposed to different viewpoints.