John Faulkner’s post-election return to the backbench is another blow, and a serious one, on Labor’s depleted stores of experience and wisdom.
The party has now lost its iconic figure of political integrity, although fortunately only from the Ministry, not from the Senate. Faulkner indicated the Prime Minister had convinced him to remain in the Senate, although he did not commit to serving out a full term, which would take him to 2017.
Faulkner’s departure will follow that of Lindsay Tanner, leaving politics altogether, and Bob McMullan, another respected figure and Hawke-Keating era minister, also departing. Party whip and political veteran Roger Price – a mentor to junior MPs and key figure in the party’s Parliamentary discipline – is also leaving at the coming election. Party heavyweight Robert Ray and Faulkner’s longtime co-interrogator in Estimates hearings throughout the Howard years, left in 2008.
There also remains the issue of what will happen to Kevin Rudd after the election; he may yet realise he is best to leave politics to pursue his international ambitions rather than remain as an uncomfortable reminder of the past.
These departures deprive Labor of the sort of calm and wise advice that comes from long political experience, the knowledge that things are never as good, nor as bad, as they appear to be. They’re also the remnants of a different Labor era, one driven by the imperative to reform, to use power to achieve real and long-term change.
But more than this, Faulkner’s commitment to genuine Parliamentary accountability and political transparency deprives the Government of its staunchest champion of integrity reforms. Faulkner’s move from Special Minister of State to Defence was a blow to the Government’s reform agenda in this area, although his replacement Joe Ludwig has continued to push through FOI reforms instigated by Faulkner.
Faulkner said this morning that he felt he had had sufficient opportunity as a frontbencher and that it was time other, younger talent had an opportunity, declaring himself a supporter of generational change. He had committed to Kevin Rudd after the 2007 election that he would serve one term as a minister and he now felt he had fulfilled that commitment. He would be accompanying Julia Gillard during the election, he said.
Faulkner also rejected repeated questions relating to the events of the night of 23 June, saying that he would never reveal what had occurred in the meeting between Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and himself.