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Thursday, 24 June 2010
Page: 6597


Mr TANNER (Minister for Finance and Deregulation) (3:15 PM) —On indulgence, I rise to advise the House that I will not be contesting the forthcoming federal election. I just wish to outline some of the reasoning behind my decision. A couple of weeks ago I spoke with the then Prime Minister indicating that it was my intention not contest the coming election. He asked me to delay consideration of this decision, indeed to reconsider. He indicated that he wanted me to stay on as a minister even if I did choose to step down. I concurred with his request and we agreed that we would revisit the matter at the end of the parliamentary sitting period. In fact, we had an appointment scheduled for 9.30 this morning to consider this matter. As you all know, by one of those strange quirks of fate that tend to occur in politics, other matters intervened. So I found myself doing what I expected to do—namely, confirming my intention not to recontest the election—slightly later in the day to a different Prime Minister, the incoming Prime Minister. I am now formally advising the House of my decision. I have indicated to the incoming Prime Minister that I am equally happy to continue serving in my current ministerial position until the election or to step aside without demur should she choose to ask me to do so.

I want to say a number of things to the House about this decision. First, I would like to make it plain that I have no future employment organised as yet, in case anybody is suspicious that I have been bought off. I do expect that I will pursue opportunities somewhere in the business and academic worlds, but that is a matter for the future. I also wish to indicate that, once I do cease to be a minister and a member of parliament, I do not intend to play a serious or significant future role in politics. I will of course do everything within my power to ensure that the government is re-elected and that the Labor Party holds my seat of Melbourne.

Once the election is over, I expect to play very little role in the future political discourse of this nation, with one significant exception. For a number of years I have been heavily committed to and heavily involved in seeking to advance the interests of a particular group of people in our nation—African Australians. That is something that I am very passionate about and something that I would urge all members of the House to pay more attention to. They are a particularly disadvantaged group in our community and I will certainly be offering my assistance to them in any way that they may find useful.

I want to stress that this decision is driven entirely and absolutely by matters of personal circumstances. There are, frankly, two little girls and two older kids who need me more than the country needs me. When I married my wife, Andrea, nine years ago, I said in the speech at the celebration that every day that we were apart was painful. I am afraid that is still true. These are circumstances that I am sure most members of the House will understand only too well—indeed, better than many in the community.

People will know from media reports that I and my wife have purchased a property just outside Melbourne. This of course is not unrelated to my decision. I am aware that in the current political environment—a rather unusual environment—all kinds of speculation and conspiracy theories will emerge with respect to the decision that I have taken. I want to assure the House that this decision is totally and absolutely unconnected with the events of the past 24 hours. It involves no reflection on either the previous Prime Minister or the incoming Prime Minister. It involves no reflection on the government’s policies and it involves no reflection on the prospects of Labor holding the seat of Melbourne. In fact, it is a little-known fact that my margin, or the margin that my successor as the candidate for Melbourne will inherit, is slightly better than it was between 2001 and 2004 in the wake of the Tampa election.

I would like to conclude by thanking, most obviously, my dear wife, Andrea, our four children and my mother, who is an ex-parliamentary staffer, believe it or not. Sadly it was for the National Party, but that is another matter. She did learn her lesson late in life, I hasten to say. I would like to thank all of my staff, past and present, ministerial and electorate, and especially my chief of staff, deputy chief of staff, media adviser and personal adviser—that is, Anthony Baker, Angela Jackson, Nardia Dazkiw and Mary Day—for their extraordinary commitment and dedication. I would like to thank the staff of Parliament House. I would particularly like to thank the people working in the Department of Finance and Deregulation, who in my view are the best public servants in the nation. I have found them virtually uniformly outstanding. Only yesterday we were celebrating a particular achievement with the reform of government travel with people in the department. I particularly thank the two heads that I have served with, Dr Ian Watt and David Tune.

I would like to thank all of my colleagues in the labour movement and the trade union movement, particularly those I served with in the Federated Clerks Union, which is now the Australian Services Union, state colleagues in my part of Melbourne, branch members and supporters in my electorate, and a range of very important individuals who have been critical mentors during the course of my career—Peter Redlich and Michael Schaefer from Holding Redlich; former senator Barney Cooney; my intellectual inspiration, Michael Schluter from the Relationships Foundation in the UK; and a range of close friends, who I do not wish to name at any great length, particularly people like Tony Douglas, Stephen Howells and Martin Foley, who is now the state member for Albert Park.

I would also like to thank the Essendon Football Club, which has paid me an honour that is at least as good as anything that I have achieved in politics and probably better—that is, being the No. 1 ticket holder for the Essendon Football Club. I would like to thank David Evans, Ray Horsburgh and Ian Robson for that. I would anticipate that, as I am now slightly devalued currency as a result of today’s announcement, I will have to step down from that position sooner rather than later. I will at least endeavour to prolong my tenure in that position until the end of the football season. I suspect it is only about eight or nine weeks away for the Bombers. Maybe I can string out my position—five and eight; it’s not looking that great.

I would like to thank my colleagues, in particular of course the now former Prime Minister and also the incoming Prime Minister. I would like to thank the Treasurer and various ministers that I have worked very closely with, such as my colleagues on the ERC, ministers that I have worked with directly, such as the minister for competition and small business, Craig Emerson, and Senator Nick Sherry. Particularly my sincere thanks go to now, sadly, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for giving me the opportunity to serve at the highest level in a Labor government.

My final brief observations, which could well be the last things I get to say in this chamber depending on what happens between now and election day: I am conscious that there will be people out in the community, including a number of people I am close to, who will feel let down or disappointed by my decision today. I am very conscious of that. A lot of people, as with most other people in this chamber, have invested in me over many years. It is a responsibility I take very seriously, so to those who do feel let down I apologise.

I would remind everybody on our side of the chamber, everybody in the Labor caucus—I think the logic applies to most of the others in this chamber as well but they can form their own view—that there is only one reason that any of us are here, no matter how brilliant we are. It is that on about 100,000 ballot papers once every three years our name appears with the words ‘Australian Labor Party’ underneath it. That is the only reason any of us here are in the Labor caucus—that reason alone. It is for that reason that I have always sought to be loyal to the labour movement, to the trade union movement and to the Labor Party and to behave as loyally as I can to the great labour movement and the great collective good that we seek to pursue for working people in this country. I do not intend to make any further public comment about my departure irrespective of my immediate future, remaining or not remaining as a minister.

I conclude by saying that I feel as if I have walked in the footsteps of giants. It has been an extraordinary privilege to be part of a Labor government. It has been an extraordinary privilege to be a member of the House of Representatives. It has been an extraordinary experience that I will remember and value for the remainder of my life. I wish all members well but particularly I wish well those who continue to carry the great banner of Labor. Thank you very much.

Honourable members—Hear, hear!