The high-achieving student – who went on to graduate as Dux of the college – had been elected head boy and seemed to have it all when his world came crashing down.
“I had an epiphany moment in Year 12. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer so it was quite a challenging year, facing the mortality of your parents.
“My faith was tested, and strengthened. It was a real turning point and I knew then my life would be about helping others around me, about service and giving back,” he told The Southern Cross during an interview in the heartland of his eastern suburbs electorate.
If service and participation in the local community counts for anything in politics, the 30-year-old should be in with a chance when people head to the polls.
Born and raised in the local area, he attended St Joseph’s School at Payneham before heading to Rostrevor.
His Italian heritage and his Catholic faith were at the core of his upbringing. When elected in 2014 (ousting Labor Minister Portolesi) Mr Tarzia used his maiden speech to pay tribute to his grandfathers who left their homeland to make a better life for their families in Australia.
Nearly 20 per cent of those who live in Hartley are of Italian origin and Mr Tarzia says the electorate is “one of the most religious” in South Australia. Recent figures show that about 30 per cent of his constituents identify as Catholic.
“Barely a weekend goes by that doesn’t feature a fair, fete, festa, festival or fundraiser,” he laughs.
Attending many community events and meeting with constituents is all part of his hectic 80-hour-a-week schedule, but Mr Tarzia says despite the rigorous workload, setting aside time with God is essential.
He likes to go to the 9.30am Italian service at The Annunciation Church at Hectorville – which helps brush up his language skills – but also participates in services at the more than 20 churches of all denominations that fall within the Hartley boundaries.
“I really enjoy going to Mass… you get that word of the Bible and in the argy bargy of the political world it’s good to get that solace, that good message.”
State politics is a fairly new gig for the law/commerce graduate, who got his first taste of public office when he was elected, at the tender age of 23, to the Norwood, Payneham and St Peters Council.
“Being on council gives you a good understanding on whether you are cut out for public life… if you enjoy dealing with bureaucracy; if you’re happy for everyone to have your mobile phone number and for them to call it seven days a week, because basically, you are public property.”
He’s proud of his achievements in State Parliament to date but admits it is sometimes difficult to align his views as a Catholic, and a lawyer.
The euthanasia vote last year was one such example.
“That wasn’t easy. You have divine law and civil law and as a lawyer you need to consider the will of the people.
“My faith and legal training led me to reaching the best solution possible. From a conscience point of view it was a no brainer that I would vote against it.”
He also expects the anticipated vote on decriminalising sex work will be equally conflicting.
With only three months to go until the election, Mr Tarzia is in full-on campaign mode, doorknocking 10 to 20 hours a week and pencilling in as many events as he can into the diary.
Whatever the outcome on March 17, there will be much cause for celebration next year as on September 8 – the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary – he will wed his “very understanding and supportive” fiancée Charissa Duffy at Rostrevor College chapel.