The Rudd Government has suffered its first casualty with Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon resigning at 1.00pm today after discussions this morning with the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff and Special Minister of State John Faulkner.
Fitzgibbon stated in a letter to the Prime Minister (Fitzgibbon’s resignation here (PDF)) that he had learnt of breaches of undertakings he had made in the wake of the Helen Liu affair about the use of his office by brother Mark Fitzgibbon, the CEO of health insurer NIB. Opposition probing via Estimates had revealed that further meetings had occurred involving Mark Fitzgibbon and his brother’s staff, and in his office.
Rudd said that a replacement would be announced shortly but appeared to rule out a reshuffle. Former Defence Procurement Parliamentary Secretary Greg Combet, currently assisting Penny Wong in the Climate Change portfolio, is tipped to return to Defence and is likely to be welcomed by Defence insiders and industry given his strong performance there on procurement issues.
Rudd suggested that his Chief of Staff Alister Jordan and Senator Faulkner had encouraged Fitzgibbon to resign after discussing the Estimates evidence, but declared Fitzgibbon had been a “first class minister” and that he might return to the frontbench in the future.
The resignation is a victory for still-unidentified elements within Defence who exposed Fitzgibbon’s relationship with Liu and the use of his office by his brother earlier this year. Today Defence Secretary Nick Warner continued to insist at Estimates hearings that an inquiry clearing Defence had been accurate and effective.
Read the back story to the Fitzgibbon story here.