Kevin Foley’s tear-welling farewell from South Australian politics will be sadly missed by the Adelaide gossip machine.

In announcing he will resign from state cabinet on October 20 — the same day when Mike Rann stands down as premier — Foley has offered a fond public farewell of: “You are going to have to find someone else to hate.”

Foley has been a long-standing favourite of the Adelaide media in a love-hate kind of way. He was great headline fodder, whether it was for being seen on the arm of a 20-something blonde or for being assaulted in a city bar.

He was his own worst enemy in publicity terms, often ringing or texting the media when it might have been wiser to keep his head down.

Only last week he had what’s been called a FIGJAM moment when he texted The Australian to say he and Rann, as premier and treasurer, had been a great team and warning the premier-in-waiting Jay Weatherill to keep his hands off their legacy. He has since said it was a “gratuitous and foolish” thing to have said, which Weatherill neither needed nor deserved.

“I just realised then and there, once I had done that, that I hadn’t gotten over the changes to the make-up of the cabinet and to the fact that I’m no longer treasurer, so the best thing I can do for Jay, the government and me, Kevin Foley, is get out,” he told ABC Adelaide radio this morning. Whether that’s what he really thinks is a matter of conjecture.

Foley was part of the Rann circus that regularly rolled into parliament, and through a fawning media, into the lounge rooms of South Australians. He put on a show: defiant, destructive and belligerent as he belittled opponents and occasionally his own colleagues. The press gallery lapped it up as substance played second fiddle to the show.

In his later years, the show spilled onto the streets as his private life became more and more public as he worked the bars and clubs of late night Adelaide. Foley’s reaction was to bellow about a breach of his privacy, finding the media fascination in him that “bordered on the bizarre”. It’s the price to be paid for political showmanship.

Yesterday Foley did what Premier Rann is trying to do: write his own version of a political legacy.

He claimed the AFL crowd of 30,000 at Adelaide Oval last Sunday was down to him, which was a swift whiting-out of his position in 2008 when he put $100 million on the table and declared AAMI Stadium at West Lakes was the eternal home of AFL.

He also took credit for the return and retention of the AAA credit rating. Yet Standard and Poor’s made it clear in its 2003 statement that the return of the rating was due to debt reductions from the sale of electricity assets — a legacy of the former Olsen era. But the retention of the rating is Foley’s legacy, as is his conservative approach to budget management that managed to erase the voter’s memories of Labor’s poor record of economic management.

His career would have been made far more productive had he played to his own beliefs and not to the adoring handful in the press gallery balcony above the chamber.

In political terms, his likely departure from parliament by the end of the year, especially if Rann goes with him, will clear the air for Weatherill. Byelections in both safe Labor seats are not seriously at risk, though Foley’s seat of Port Adelaide arguably could be vulnerable to a strong independent campaign by the local mayor Gary Johanson. Negotiations between the minority Left faction and Foley’s dominant Right are continuing over cabinet elevations.

On ABC Adelaide radio this morning, Foley said one of the reasons why he was leaving was he was sick of “the conflict business”. Or sick of creating conflict?

“I’m really tired of arguing,” he said. People might find that strange but I am tired of having to argue.”

Yes, it’s always been about Kevin.

*With Des Ryan. This article was first published at InDaily.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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