AUSTRALIA WILL LOSE perhaps the best Trade minister it has ever had at the coming federal election, with Andrew Robb announcing on Wednesday that he will retire from Parliament when the government faces the people; it brings to an end an extraordinary 28-month stint in the Trade portfolio, and lifts the curtain on a spirited race for Liberal Party preselection in his blue-ribbon Melbourne seat of Goldstein.
Over the next few days, readers are likely to see a number of short posts from me, in addition to a longer feature I partially wrote on Tuesday (which remains relevant) and a look at things that have happened since I disappeared at the start of the week; I have been rather distracted, busy with other matters these past few days — hence my silence — but at the risk of covering old ground in a bid to make up ground, we will get to the key events of the week over the weekend.
I want to begin by briefly acknowledging the fine efforts of Andrew Robb as Trade minister, as he announces his imminent exit from Parliament; first elected at the 2004 election after the retirement of David Kemp, Robb briefly served as a parliamentary secretary in the Howard government before rising to senior shadow portfolios in opposition, and finally to the Trade and Tourism portfolios when the Coalition returned to office under Tony Abbott in 2013.
It is fair to say that Robb’s tenure in the Tourism portfolio was solid — if unspectacular — but in a very short period, he has carved out a stellar reputation in Trade, sealing free trade agreements with Japan, China and South Korea, negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and (I understand) he is still looking to conclude a free trade agreement with India before he leaves office later this year.
These agreements will go a long way to bolstering Australia’s economic performance in coming years, securing greater access to the key markets to our north — with vastly reduced (or in most cases, no) tariffs — that are collectively home to some 1.5bn people, or well over 2.5bn if the India deal is done before his departure takes effect.
The benefits they will bring to exporters in the agriculture, mining, manufacturing and service sectors of the economy will also help to diversify it, and to lessen our reliance on exports of mineral and energy-based commodities, and whilst some harbour concerns about this country being flooded with cheap Chinese labour — a proposition I emphatically reject — it is very difficult, with the exception of fatuous scare campaigns cooked up at Trades Hall, to see Robb’s handiwork as anything other than having rendered an incalculable service to Australia that will endure for decades to come.
Indeed, it is not a stretch to suggest he is not only the best Trade minister Australia has had, but that his performance as a minister in a second successive Coalition government deserves to rank him among the best ministers of state Australia has produced (and I don’t say that lightly).
Robb’s resignation, of course, opens a predictable free-for-all for the seat of Goldstein, in Melbourne’s inner south; currently held with a margin over Labor of 11%, it is one of the safest Liberal-held seats in Victoria, and has never been held (either as Goldstein or, between Federation and 1984, in its earlier incarnation as Balaclava) by the ALP. As rusted-on conservative seats go, this is one of the safest.
It is also — as some readers will have seen me note previously — my local electorate.
As a member of the Liberal Party with voting rights at the forthcoming preselection (which has been scheduled today for 19 March) I am bound by the rules of the party which explicitly prohibit commentary on preselection contests in which I have an interest; as this concerns the branches of the party in my own local area, those restrictions certainly apply.
Thus, I’m not going to run through who’s definitely standing, who might, who isn’t, who I intend to back and/or what gossip is doing the rounds locally; some of these questions have been raised in both Fairfax and Murdoch publications this week, and beyond the coverage provided in those tomes I won’t be adding to it in this column.
However, there are two exceptions, the first being the obvious one: and that is, that I will not be standing — contrary to some of the stories that have dogged me over the years and in spite of the occasional declaration to the contrary (usually when angry or frustrated) I have no interest in a seat in Parliament, and on this occasion this observation should be interpreted as an explicit ruling out of any interest in standing now too.
And two (and the exception to even that) is to note that the hare-brained plot to parachute former Chief of Staff to Tony Abbott, Peta Credlin, into the seat whenever it fell vacant appears to be extinct, and nobody I know is suggesting any attempt to do so now is in the offing, let alone likely.
But be that as it may, and despite little interest around local branches in Credlin being their MP, should the nightmare scenario of her being parachuted into Goldstein materialise, and were she to secure Liberal endorsement for the seat, the threat made in this column some time ago to resign from the party to be able to run against her remains very much in force.
It won’t come to that, of course. Thank goodness… 🙂
And beyond that, I will provide no further comment in relation to Goldstein until the preselection is resolved.
I will be back — probably tomorrow at some point — to talk about the imminent reshuffle Malcolm Turnbull faces, and the (justified) sacking today of Human Services minister Stuart Robert over a clear breach of ministerial guidelines; as I alluded at the outset, I am also working on a piece that looks forward to the election, and how current machinations over reform and other matters might pose a potential threat to the government’s legitimacy if it is re-elected without a platform as such to stand on.
Enjoy your evening.