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Senator Nick Sherry's transcripts


12 Dec 2011

News conference
Parliament House, ACT

NICK SHERRY: Well, good morning. Today - this morning I am announcing my retirement from the Ministry. I will be continuing as a Senator for Tasmania but I will not be contesting pre-selection for the next election. There are three interrelated reasons for my decision.

Firstly, I've been on the front bench for a very long time, some 14 years of my almost 22 years in the Parliament so far. I served three years as a Parliamentary Secretary between 1993 and 1996. I've served in a range of positions in Opposition as a shadow minister for seven years, and I've served the last four years as a Minister. I've been around for a long time. I've served with four Labor Prime Ministers: Hawke, Keating, Rudd and Julia Gillard.

I served with three Opposition Leaders: Kim Beazley, Simon Crean and Mark Latham. So I've been on the front bench for a long time.

Secondly, I've just turned 56 and you do think about these issues a little more when you get a touch older.

And thirdly, I have three young children and I do believe that, obviously, it's challenging with family and particularly children in federal political life. It is challenging, and I've given greater weight to the fact that with three young children and my length of service, that's an important consideration.

So they're the interrelated factors that I've come to a conclusion that it is an appropriate time to step down as a Minister and to allow another member of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party the opportunity to serve as a Minister.

Now I'd stress that this was my decision. I did not consult with anyone in the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party at all about my decision over the last few months. I did consult with a few close friends outside of politics, including a couple of former members of Parliament, but this was my decision.

When I reached the conclusion that it was time to retire as a Minister, I then informed the Prime Minister and I informed her at the National Conference on Saturday afternoon, and I also informed the Opposition - sorry, the Senate leader Chris Evans. I thought it appropriate to notify Chris as well.

So there have been quite a few rumours, I notice, over the last week or two, but they are the facts. That's what occurred. I'm particularly fit and energetic. I actually enjoy being a Minister. I actually enjoy being in the Parliament. I'm actually enjoying the policy and political challenges but when I considered the factors, the interrelated factors that I've mentioned, I still came to the conclusion that it was time to retire as a Minister.

I've enjoyed a wide range of ministerial responsibilities: primary industry and resources, superannuation; corporate law, assistant treasurer, small business, tourism and deregulation.

So I've had a very broad range of responsibilities in my time as a Minister and Parliamentary Secretary. The policy challenges have been significant and there are many ongoing policy challenges for the Government. The most challenging period, in my view, was the period during the global financial crisis.

I'm proud to have represented Australia as a Minister. I'm very proud to have been a Minister. There are not many who are provided with that opportunity. I'm proud to have represented the Australian Labor Party as a Minister.

I thank Julia Gillard, with whom I have a good friendship and a good working relationship - I thank Julia for the trust and confidence she placed in me in reappointing me last year to the Ministry. I also thank her predecessor, Kevin Rudd, for the same trust and confidence that he placed in me in appointing me to the Ministry in 2007 as Australia's first Superannuation Minister.

There are a number of thank yous to the Prime Minister and all the leaders of the Parliamentary Labor Party who I've served with on the front bench, and I've mentioned them all here today. I particularly want to thank two of my Senate colleagues, the current leader Chris Evans and the former leader Senator John Faulkner.

I want to thank all of my Parliamentary colleagues - obviously far too many to name. I particularly want to thank my staff, a few of you who are here today. You can't do your job as a Minister without good staff, and I've had good staff, had good loyalty over a long period of time.

And there's obviously a wide range of public servants, a wide range of organisations and individuals in the community that I've interacted with in my time on the front bench, and I want to thank all of those. Again, too many to name.

Finally, I want to thank you in the media for your interaction over the last 14 years as a member of the executive.

As I've mentioned, I will continue to be a Senator for Tasmania. I'm looking forward to next year, hopefully some good committee work in the economics and finance areas in particular, taking up the challenge to the Liberal National Party Opposition. So I look forward to those challenges and beyond, and finally, before I take questions, have a happy Christmas and a safe New Year. Over to you.

QUESTION: Senator, without you on the front bench there won't be a Tasmanian there but do you know if you'll be replaced by another Tasmanian member?

SHERRY: Firstly, I'd make the point it is certainly appropriate that there be a Tasmanian, at least one Tasmanian, on the front bench for obvious reasons.

Tasmania is very fortunate in the sense that we have strong representation, we have six senators, we're the only state with six senators, Labor senators, and we have four House of Representatives members.

Labor's vote at the last election was historically very high, I think the highest in 100 years, two party preferred. So, yes, I think it would be appropriate for there to be at least one Tasmanian on the front bench. That's the decision of the Prime Minister and we'll await her announcement on that.

QUESTION: Do you have any idea who'll be replacing you?

SHERRY: Absolutely no idea. I've had no involvement, discussions in my replacement [sic]. That's inappropriate. I've simply informed the Prime Minister of my decision to retire as a Minister just over a week ago at National Conference.

We had a warm and engaging conversation, very warm and engaging conversation. I informed her of my decision and she's going to make the appropriate announcements in due course.

QUESTION: Who would you like to see take over from you?

SHERRY: That's not my call. Look, in terms of Tasmania we have some very, very good quality Members and Senators but across the Caucus, across the Labor Party Caucus there are some very, very good men and women who will make a very, very good Minister or Ministers. That's a decision for the PM and we'll know that perhaps later today.

QUESTION: Will the reshuffle be good for the party or will it lead to further inflamed tensions, for example? Julia Gillard's backers are seen to be promoted in this, what will be the mood of the party?

NICK SHERRY: Firstly I don't know the details or extent of the reshuffle, but can I make this general point? And this was part of my consideration in stepping aside as a Minister, given my circumstances.

I do think it's important from time to time that the executive in any - in any business or government is refreshed. I do think it is appropriate.

I do think it is appropriate that renewal take place. That's been part of my considerations. I do think it is appropriate that there are new - there is a new person or persons brought forward.

In any organisation you need that renewal and that's an important part of politics. I don't believe it should be seen as particularly unusual. It hasn't been in the past and that's important.

QUESTION: Do you think Labor can win the next election?

SHERRY: I certainly do. I certainly do. Again, that - in terms of the polls or where our position is in the polls, it hasn't been a consideration for me. If we'd been seven points in front in the polls my decision personally would still have been the same.

Yes, I do believe it and I believe it for the following reasons.

Firstly, Mr Abbott has been very good as a negative, saying no to everything, and portraying the Labor Government as a risk to the Australian people, which it is not. It is not. I mean, a Labor government, a good Labor government, keeping the economy strong - just contrast that with what's happening internationally - low unemployment, low government debt but also building for the future, making the economy stronger, dealing with important issues, pricing carbon, a whole range of other policy initiatives. We're about the future. Tony Abbott's about the past but he's been effective at portraying, in a very, very negative, way a risk to the Australian people.

Labor will win the next election, in my view, if it highlights the real risk that Tony Abbott's agenda represents for the Australian people. Labor will win the next election if it wins that debate and I believe it is perfectly capable of winning that debate.

QUESTION: With Julia Gillard as leader?

SHERRY: Yes. Absolutely.

QUESTION: Nevertheless the Government's trailing in the polls. What do you put the Government's poor performance and poor standing in the public …?

SHERRY: Well, I've already mentioned the factors. I've already mentioned the factors.

And it has been a tough year, there's no doubt about that but, as I've said, I think the - and I believe the Labor Party is able to win the next election.

As I say, I've been around a long time. I've seen a lot of good polls and I've seen a lot of bad polls. I've never personally got terribly excited about it.

I remember when a few people were getting excited when we were on 57 per cent in the polls and I just said to people, calm down, this is a long term game, it's a long term. It's about the future of this country and making hard decisions.

So polls are interesting, you obviously take some notice of them but I've seen a lot of good ones and a lot of bad ones over the last almost 22 years in politics.

Anything else you'd like to ask?

Well, have a good Christmas-New Year and I'm not sure you'll convey that to your readers or your listeners but anyway it's meant and we'll see you in the next year. Thank you very much.


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