Health Minister Greg Hunt has confirmed his looming resignation from politics, saying he will not stand at the next federal election.
Following months of speculation around his future and 24 hours after a report that he was set to quit, the member for Flinders confirmed Canberra’s worst-kept secret and said he would not be running next year.
“I spoke with the Prime Minister and my electorate chairman and I informed them I would not be contesting the next election,” an emotional Mr Hunt told the House of Representatives on Thursday afternoon.
Following reports on Wednesday of his imminent resignation, following question time on Thursday he confirmed his future in a valedictory speech.
Mr Hunt noted that he had spent much time away from home during his political career, and had missed his wife and two children.
“They said to me on Sunday, they looked at me, and they said, ‘Dad, this is your last chance to be a proper dad. And it’s time to come home, dad’,” he said.
Noting the problems of the COVID pandemic, Mr Hunt said he believed the nation’s health systems had been strengthened under the Department of Health.
“There will be challenges but we are well prepared for that future,” he said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison praised Mr Hunt as having “a big brain and a big heart”, and being “a dear friend”.
“Your father, mate, he would be so proud, as [Mr Hunt’s wife] Paula I’m sure is bursting with pride. And our loss is their great gain. And I know how much you are looking forward to that,” the PM said.
The Liberal Party paid symbolic tributes to Mr Hunt during question time. He walked into the House of Representatives chamber accompanied by Mr Morrison, allowing photographers to take snaps of them together before the announcement.
Addressing a question to Mr Hunt, Chisholm MP Gladys Liu called him the “the best minister for health and aged care”.
Staff in Mr Hunt’s office filed into the public viewing gallery shortly before the end of question time, to watch his announcement.
He did not mention plans for his future. There has been speculation in Canberra that Mr Hunt could be named Australia’s High Commissioner to London, replacing former Liberal senator George Brandis whose term is about to expire.
Mr Hunt said he hoped the Liberal Party would pre-select a “strong and brilliant woman” to follow him as its Flinders candidate.
Mr Hunt, who has been health minister throughout the pandemic, has held the Victorian seat since 2001. A former environment and industry minister, he comfortably won his seat at the 2019 election by a 55-45 two-party margin.
But – after his gruelling two years leading the health response to the pandemic – there has been gossip in Canberra for months that Mr Hunt might reconsider his future ahead of the coming federal election.
As early as this week, senior Liberal sources had said they believed Mr Hunt would soon announce his intention not to contest the 2022 poll. Potential successors were said to be quietly assembling campaign teams and preparing to follow him as the Liberal candidate for Flinders.
Mr Hunt has repeatedly shot down talk of his imminent resignation. As late as November 14, he told ABC’s Insiders he was “pre-selected and running” when asked about his election plans.
However, amid speculation that Mr Morrison might call an election as early as January, some political observers believe parliament will not return again before the federal poll. That would make Thursday the last day for traditional “valedictory” speeches in parliament.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who described Mr Hunt as his closest friend in Parliament, paid tribute to the Health Minister when quizzed about it on Wednesday.
“We are very dear friends and he has been an outstanding Health Minister through this crisis,” Mr Frydenberg said.
“The fact that Australia has one of the lowest mortality rates in the world, and the fact that we have one of the highest vaccination rates in the world is due, to no small part, to the incredible work that all health professionals have done across Australia,” he said.
“Greg, as the Health Minister during this once-in-a-century pandemic, has been absolutely outstanding.”
He noted the two men were godfathers to each other’s daughters.
Former deputy chief medical officer Dr Nick Coatsworth, who worked closely with Mr Hunt through the early stages of the pandemic, tweeted there “was no better person on either side to have this portfolio during this pandemic.”