Former cabinet minister Stuart Robert will resign from federal parliament, leaving time for his friend Scott Morrison to also bow out of politics and create the possibility for two byelections on the same day.
Robert in a statement on Saturday announced his resignation from parliament “in the coming weeks”, which could allow the former prime minister to announce he will quit politics at the same time.
Sources close to both men said a byelection for both of their seats could be held in July, but it was unclear whether Morrison had decided he wanted to leave parliament as soon as that.
Morrison in recent days accepted an unpaid advisory position at a Washington-based think tank, the Centre for a New American Security, heightening speculation that he would quit parliament.
Morrison and Robert were both contacted for comment.
Robert, who was a confidant of the former prime minister and presided over the robo-debt saga, earlier on Saturday acknowledged that his time in parliament has not been the smoothest ride but said he had “few regrets”.
He said he was quitting politics to spend more time with family. The shadow assistant treasurer said politics was tough and people “throw the kitchen sink at you”.
“And promises of a kinder, gentler parliament need to be taken with a grain of salt,” he said.
“We may all aspire to it, but ambition in politics will always win – as Labor stalwart Graham Richardson aptly put it: whatever it takes.
“I do hope civility does eventually come to the theatre of politics. But I do fear division has well and truly entrenched itself in the current parliament. A kinder, gentler parliament it is not.”
Robert said he wished Opposition Leader Peter Dutton well and that he had his full support “to take up to the Labor government and hold them to account, whilst at the same time giving Australians an alternative that acts in their best interests – not for popularity, not for social media, just a good decent custodian of government”.
“For now, I will fulfil some final duties as member for Fadden over the next few weeks before becoming a full-time husband, father and son,” Robert said.
During his 16 years in parliament, Robert was a frequent target of attacks from Labor with multiple scandals engulfing his political career.
In 2016, he was forced to resign from cabinet and return an expensive Rolex watch given to him by a Chinese billionaire on a trip to China. Several years later after being reappointed to the ministry by Morrison, Robert was forced to repay $38,000 to the government for excessive home internet bills charged to the taxpayer.
He has also claimed “absolute responsibility” for the implementation of the illegal robo-debt scheme. However, he said he was also “the minister to say: ‘We have got to get advice to stop it now’.”
This masthead has also revealed Robert advised a consulting company called Synergy 360, which was part-owned by his friend and chief political fundraiser John Margerison, on business opportunities that he’d encountered in his capacity as a member of parliament.
A parliamentary inquiry last month heard that Robert stood to gain financially out of Synergy 360, with Margerison giving evidence that Robert was a part-owner of a company that Margerison nominated to receive funds from Synergy 360.
NDIS Minister Bill Shorten said robo-debt victims were reaching out to him on Saturday to say how unimpressed they were that Robert “jumped out of politics just before the findings of the Robodebt Royal Commission”. The royal commission is due to hand down its findings next month.
“Mr Robert also still has questions to answer about the relationship between himself and controversial de facto lobbying firm synergy 360,” Shorten said. “We will get those answers.”
The resignation will cause another headache for Dutton, after the Liberals lost the Melbourne seat of Aston to Labor following the resignation of former cabinet minister Alan Tudge.
Robert’s seat is held on a 10.6 per cent margin, which should put it out of reach for Labor, but the Liberals did suffer a 6.4 per cent swing in Aston.
Numerous local LNP members are rumoured to be interested in the seat, while former senator Amanda Stoker was named by party sources as a potential candidate.
Dutton said on Saturday he had “already heard a few names mentioned” but the party would “preselect somebody who is a local”.
“We’ll preselect somebody who understands that part of the Gold Coast, and we should be in that seat, frankly, preselecting somebody who can be a future cabinet minister or a leader of our party,” he said.
Dutton said Robert was a central figure in the Morrison government and had served across a number of portfolios.
“I think his CV speaks for itself,” he said.
Robert told his local paper, the he had “too few regrets to mention” from his time in politics.
“Politics is a tough game, I played it hard and so did Labor and I have few regrets, to quote a song, too few to mention,” he said.
“I have no bitterness and I don’t begrudge Labor for playing politics hard, but they threw everything at me, and they got nowhere as history records.
“That’s the rough and tumble of politics, and you shouldn’t enter the game of politics unless you are prepared to take the hits.”
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