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Resignations from Federal Cabinet said to be a symptom of declining morale and exhaustion

PAUL MURPHY: Well Senator Walsh's move to resign doesn't do much for the morale of other long serving Ministers who've also faced enormous stress after six years in office. But, as Heather Ewart reports, many of Peter Walsh's colleagues were surprised he finally threatened to resign, but they're sympathetic and understand his position.

HEATHER EWART: Peter Walsh comes from the old school of Labor Ministers, those who survived the years of Opposition and the bitterness over the 1975 sacking of the Whitlam Government. The election of the Hawke Government brought in a new era and Peter Walsh was part of it, along with Paul Keating, Education Minister, John Dawkins, Health Minister, Neil Blewett, and Foreign Affairs Minister, Gareth Evans, to name a few. They were a team with a shared history, blazing a new trail for the Labor Party, but they lost a few along the way and somehow a degree of the old fire and enthusiasm went with it.

Former Community Services Minister, Don Grimes, was the first to go, for health reasons, to become Australian Ambassador in The Hague. Then the resignation of Mick Young in a cloud of controversy and to top it all off, Bill Hayden moved into Yarralumla to become Governor-General. The times, the mood and the camaraderie of the old team were changing. Paul Keating and John Dawkins were getting restless and made their unsuccessful bid for Keating to get to get to the Lodge.

There was much talk about the longest serving Ministers getting tired and fed up with the strains of office and indeed many of them promoted that view in late night discussions behind closed doors. Peter Walsh's talks with Bob Hawke last Tuesday about the possibility of getting out before the next election are a symptom of that mood. But many of his colleagues were surprised he went so far this time. He's regarded as a stayer, the tough man who's wielded the knife into sacred areas of Government expenditure. The leaking of those talks last Tuesday are a blow to morale and give plenty of ammunition for the Opposition. Bob Hawke would have been determined to dissuade his Finance Minister from quitting in a build up to the next election and perhaps Walsh knew that from the outset. In general he has the sympathy of his colleagues, but publication of those talks has caused a lot of damage and serve as a timely indicator to the Prime Minister that he may need to gee-up his troops if he wants to take his Government to the polls looking fresh, in control, and ready for a fourth term.

Primary Industry Minister, John Kerin, is another who's served as Minister for the full six years of the Hawke Government and says he can understand the pressures Peter Walsh has been under.

JOHN KERIN: Peter had to be Dr No the whole time and I think that should would be a task that does wear one down, but Peter has applied himself to that job. The pressure on us all the time is to cut spending programs and that must weigh heavily with him.

HEATHER EWART: So you can see why he might have finally had enough and wanted to get out of the Ministry before the next election?

JOHN KERIN: Well, I don't know the background to it at all Heather and I'm not really going to comment on that because I'm in some ignorance of the whole situation.

HEATHER EWART: Did it surprise you in any sense though, that he took the position that he did, as a colleague?

JOHN KERIN: I think it's probably a personal matter, a matter related to health or circumstance.

HEATHER EWART: Are you concerned about what talks like this and news breaking of talks like this does for the image of the Hawke Government after six years in office? The image that its Minister might be all getting a bit tired?

JOHN KERIN: The Expenditure Review Committee process is a very tiring process for those Ministers physically because they work incredibly long hours and that's what expenditure cutting is all about. But in terms of mental tiredness, I don't believe any of my colleagues are that way and we've had an influx of new Ministers after all.

HEATHER EWART: So you wouldn't agree that Peter Walsh isn't the only seasoned and long serving Minister who's suffering from fatigue and getting a bit fed up with the job?

JOHN KERIN: No, I don't see that.

HEATHER EWART: Has Peter Walsh let you all down a bit then, by his action?

JOHN KERIN: No, if a man or woman in this game takes the view that for whatever reason that they may see a need to move on, I understand he's not going, so it's all a bit academic, that's not a question of letting people down, that's something that you would naturally sympathise with.

PAUL MURPHY: The Primary Industries and Energy Minister, John Kerin, with Heather Ewart.