The Victorian government is set for a shake-up ahead of the state election, with four senior ministers, including the deputy premier, having confirmed they will be stepping down.
By 10am, Deputy Premier James Merlino, Health Minister Martin Foley, Sport and Tourism Minister Martin Pakula and Police Minister Lisa Neville had all publicly shared their intention to step down prior to the state election in November.
Pakula and Foley will withdraw entirely from state politics, while Neville has said she will remain in the public service.
Merlino will remain connected to the government’s election campaign in some capacity.
All four are senior cabinet ministers and will deal a huge blow to the Andrews’ government’s chances of re-election.
Role changes to see more women in leadership
Andrews said he was sad to see colleagues leave, but that he was not concerned about the ministers retiring.
“This is the right decision to make, in the interest of government and state,” he said.
He has announced Ben Carroll will become the coordinating minister for the Department of Jobs.
Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio will become the coordinating minister for the Department of Environment, Land, Planning and Water.
Natalie Hutchins will assume the role of coordinating minister for the Department of Education and Training.
Assistant Treasurer Danny Pearson will become coordinating minister for the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing.
Maryanne Thomas will become the coordinating minister for the Department of Health.
“That means that, like the cabinet, the government’s leadership team is now more than half women,” Andrews said.
A caucus meeting will take place on Saturday at 10am, following which more portfolio details will be revealed.
Andrews says the government will ask the caucus to endorse Transport Minister Jacinta Allen as Deputy Premier at tomorrow’s meeting.
“I am very confident, just as my senior leadership team colleagues are very confident, that the caucus will make the right decision,” he said.
Treasurer Tim Pallas said as the senior minister belonging to the Victorian right faction, he would support Allen in the bid for deputy premier.
Andrews thanks his departing colleagues before firing up
Andrews bade farewell to “friends and colleagues” from the Victorian parliament, making special mention of his deputy Merlino.
“On a very personal note, I will never be able to repay James for his loyalty, for his friendship, for his care and comfort to me,” he said.
“No premier could ever have had a better deputy, and I don’t believe Victoria could have had a better acting premier than we had for an extended period last year.”
Merlino stepped into the premier’s role last year when Andrews badly injured his back.
When queried over whether he had previously dodged a question on retiring ministers, Andrews fired up.
“It’s not for me to make announcements on behalf of colleagues because you asked a question,” Andrews said today.
He invoked the right to privacy of MPs’ families and suggested the answer to the question had, at the time, not been relevant to the public interest in Victoria.
The reporter referred to a question she had asked at a previous press conference about whether Andrews expected Merlino and Neville to contest the 2022 election.
At the time, Andrews answered “yes”.
Merlino spoke to the media after Andrews, saying he first wanted to thank his premier.
“It’s been an absolute honor and a privilege to be your deputy for the last 10 and a half years,” he said.
He said Andrews was an “extraordinary” leader with ideas and determination he had never seen elsewhere.
“I’ll get emotional If I speak too long.”
Merlino issued a statement this morning to declare his “twenty-year journey” had come to an end.
“Renewal is critical for any government – fresh ideas and new energy. As hard as this is, I believe in my heart that,” he said in his statement.
“Renewal, new cabinet ministers around the table, is the best thing for the government and our state.”
In his departure statement, Pakula said he did not wish to see himself as a politician who stayed in the job at the expense of the rest of his life.
“Politics is an all-consuming endeavor. It’s a job that often demands an unhealthy measure of emotional and mental commitment,” he said.
“As politicians, we are notoriously bad at appreciating when considerations for our own well-being demand that we stop and find something else to do with our lives.
“I’d like to think I’m not one of them.”
Foley’s statement said he was also looking forward to focusing on other aspects of his life.
“The past two years have been a tough time for all Victorians. Many of us have come to reflect on what we aspire to achieve. I am no different,” his statement reads.
“I am looking forward to contributing to a better, fairer, sustainable Victoria in a different capacity.
“One that allows me more time to focus on my family and wellbeing and different interests.”
Neville’s statement said her departure was due to a long running fight with Crohn’s disease, which led to her being hospitalized last year.
“But while it is no longer sustainable from a health perspective for me to commit to being Minister and local member for the next term, I am not finished with public service and look forward to finding other ways to continue to contribute to public life after the election in November,” she said in the statement.
Following the announcements, Premier Daniel Andrews issued a pre-prepared statement for each of his departing ministers, suggesting that he was aware of his colleagues’ intentions.
In each, he detailed his appreciation for how they steered their respective portfolios through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Martin stepped up to do one of the most difficult jobs in a global pandemic. His professionalism, and his calm, deliberate direction saw Victoria through the worst,” Andrews said of Foley.
“His leadership during COVID-19 saved lives.
“He never shied away from doing what needed to be done to keep Victorians safe, to keep our health system going and to protect our nurses, doctors, paramedics and allied health professionals.”