News National Two key cabinet ministers set to quit politics at next election

Two key cabinet ministers set to quit politics at next election

Christopher Pyne
Christopher Pyne during Question Time in Canberra's Parliament House on February 13. Photo: Getty
Twitter Facebook Reddit Pinterest Email

Liberal frontbencher Christopher Pyne is set to quit at the next election, joining a conga line of current and former ministers who are also standing down.

The departure of Mr Pyne, who once dubbed himself “The Fixer”, will add to speculation that the looming likely election loss for the Coalition is an inevitability beyond even his own self-declared powers.

Speaking on his eponymous television program Pyne & Marles on Friday, Mr Pyne poured kerosene on the fire surrounding speculation he will quit.

“Once I decide to announce my retirement you will be the first to know,” he quipped.

“Do you think if I announce a retirement on Sky that Pyne & Marles will go from 12 viewers to 25? That would be a big jump.”

His co-host, Richard Marles said: “If it is true, yours has been a mighty career and I for one will miss you.”

Scott Morrison has lost a succession of high profile MPs and senators already, with more expected to follow this weekend. Photo: The New Daily

A who’s who of senior Liberals – Julie Bishop, Kelly O’Dwyer, Nigel Scullion, Michael Keenan, Luke Hartsukyer, David Bushby, Steve Ciobo and Craig Laundy – have already either announced, or plan to announce, their retirements.

Mr Ciobo, who was demoted after strongly backing Peter Dutton’s failed leadership coup, is expected to make his own announcement about quitting on Saturday.

Mr Laundy is yet to officially flag whether he will run again for the seat of Reid, but has told colleagues it is unlikely.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison failed to rule out more resignations on Friday, insisting that the departure of two more cabinet minsters was not a vote of no confidence in his government.

“No,” he replied.

But it is Mr Pyne’s departure that represents the end of an era.

He was just 25 when he entered Parliament in 1993. Now 51, he was educated at St Ignatius College in Adelaide before studying law at Adelaide University. He went to work for former senator Amanda Vanstone, with whom he is still close.

Mr Pyne followed Liberal MP Ian Wilson as the member for Sturt. But unlike Mr Wilson – who was removed in a bitterly contested preselection – he will secure the rare political honour of leaving at a time of his own choosing.

“Touch wood, I’ve never been defeated in an election,” Mr Pyne once said.

“I like the process of trying to get people to support you and I like winning.”

He was a survivor.

But he wasn’t always trusted by his colleagues.

In fact, he enraged some during a ballot for deputy Liberal leader after he begged for votes, claiming nobody would support him. Colleagues were angered when he ended up with substantially more votes than he had claimed he could possibly secure.

Behind the scenes, he was a campaigner for same-sex marriage.

His intervention during a crucial party room meeting, where he accused Tony Abbott of “branch stacking” the meeting with Nationals, was pivotal, and also signalled he had broken with Abbott. It was a decision with important consequences for his leadership.

In 2017, Mr Pyne was forced to address charges of disloyalty after revelations of a secret tape in which he declared to marriage equality supporters at Sydney’s Cherry Bar that he was fighting for change.

“We’re going to get it,” he said.

“I think it might be sooner than everyone thinks. And your friends in Canberra are working on that outcome.”

Mr Pyne also survived the Howard years, where he backed the leadership ambitions of Peter Costello. That came at the detriment of his own career, widely regarded as being kept in check by John Howard.

He was finally appointed to a junior portfolio as parliamentary secretary for family services in 2003.

He was appointed minister for the ageing in 2007, less than a year before the defeat of the Howard government.

However, he flourished under Mr Abbott, establishing himself as a confidante of the then prime minister. That was before he switched sides and backed Malcolm Turnbull in the leadership coup.

Mr Pyne also held the education portfolio, presiding over savage cuts that were later partially reversed by Mr Turnbull, and in the industry portfolio before, finally, defence.

A passionate observer of US politics, he did not shy away from harsh assessments of the current US President. Two years ago he admitted he was not a fan of Donald Trump.

“And I think the Donald Trump phenomenon is a real problem for the United States, making their democracy look kind of weird,” he said.

On Friday, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the latest departures suggested Mr Morrison’s own cabinet had simply “given up”.

“The Morrison government is divided, it’s unstable and now we see people just simply giving up on the government,” he said.

“I say to Australians, if the ministers in the government are giving up on the government then you should too. Labor by contrast is united and stable.”