Australia

Resignation to spark major shake-up

Australia’s longest serving finance minister Mathias Cormann has announced he will quit his job by Christmas with Trade Minister Simon Birmingham the most likely replacement.

His departure sets the scene for a major shake-up of the Morrison Government’s economic team with Senator Birmingham also tipped to take over the role of Leader of the Government in the Senate.

Speculation has also emerged that the Prime Minister’s former leadership rival Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton could be moved to the defence portfolio.

In a statement on Sunday, Senator Cormann said he will leave Parliament by the end of the year, sparking a cabinet reshuffle and a Senate vacancy that will see a new Liberal senator appointed to a casual vacancy.

He also moved to address longstanding speculation he had been sidelined by Mr Morrison after his pivotal role in the leadership change that saw Senator Cormann back Mr Dutton and the Prime Minister come through the middle.

He has privately rejected speculation that he might return to Europe in a diplomatic posting for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development insisting he is more attracted to making some money in the corporate sector.

RELATED: ‘Control freak’: Cormann’s insult to PM before quitting

RELATED: Finance Minister Mathias Cormann announces resignation

However, he will first help the Morrison Government hand down the October budget and an economic update in December.

“Serving as a Senator for Western Australia and as the Australian Minister for Finance continues to be one of the greatest privileges of my life,’’ he said.

“Having the opportunity to help shape the future direction of our country as part of a great team working to make our country even stronger, more prosperous and more resilient is a great honour.I love this job. Every single day I am giving it my all.I can honestly say that I have left nothing on the field.

“By the end of this year we will be halfway through this current term of government.Having decided not to recontest the next election, I can confirm that I have advised the Prime Minister that the end of this year would be an appropriate time for an orderly transition in my portfolio.

While not the worst kept secret in Australian politics, his departure had been widely speculated for months after he failed to deny three recent reports in The Daily Telegraph, The Age and The Australian Financial Review that he planned to resign sparking a cabinet reshuffle.

After the election, Senator Cormann has been dogged by speculation that he was no longer in Mr Morrison’s inner circle, despite his senior role as Senate leader and Finance Minister.

Senator Cormann repeatedly denied he planned to quit politics in the lead up to the last election.

“I’m absolutely in it for the long haul,” he said.

But the unusual long lead time to his departure at Christmas sets the scene for a new “hunger games” within the Morrison Government’s ranks for promotion.

“We have many highly talented members and senators in our team who stand ready to make an outstanding contribution in what, in my mind, is the best and most interesting portfolio in government,’’ Senator Cormann said.

“While today I’m announcing my future intentions, I am not about to go anywhere just yet. Before handing over the baton, there is another six months or so of hard work to be done in this job, to help manage a responsible transition out of this coronavirus induced crisis and to help finalise and set in train our five-year plan to maximise the strength of our economic and jobs recovery.

“We will also need to make the many necessary decisions to re-embark on the important journey of budget repair. So between now and the end of the year I will be working with the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and all of my colleagues on finalising our July Economic Statement, our Budget in October and our half-yearly Budget update in December.”

Senator Cormann said he would also continue his work to secure the passage of important reform legislation through the Parliament, stressing his strong relationship with the PM.

“Making this decision has been made easier by the knowledge that the government of our country is in very good hands,’’ he said.

“Our Prime Minister leads a team that is stronger, more focused and more united than ever.I would like to thank the Prime Minister for the trust and confidence he has placed in me to do this job, as I would like to thank his predecessors as Prime Minister, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull, for the opportunities they have given me to serve. The Prime Minister and I have worked closely and very effectively together for many years.

“We worked together directly on three budgets and three half-yearly budget updates.The work our government did to repair the Budget, with Joe Hockey, Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg leading our economic team, has helped ensure that Australia entered this most recent crisis from a position of comparative fiscal strength.”

According to former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s memoir, A Bigger Picture, Senator Cormann regarded Mr Morrison as “emotional, narcissistic and untrustworthy and told me so regularly”.

“Of course, if Mathias had a poor opinion of Scott, (Peter) Dutton’s dislike of him was even stronger,” Mr Turnbull wrote.

Senator Cormann texted Mr Turnbull after the coup to express his sadness over how it played out.

“All this has been very painful — yes, I know, first and foremost for you, and for that I am very sorry,’’ Senator Cormann wrote.

But Mr Turnbull replied that Senator Cormann should be “ashamed”.

“At a time when strength and loyalty were called for, you were weak and treacherous. You should be ashamed of yourself,” he wrote.

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