South Australia has had a preoccupation with Kevin Foley for a decade.
As treasurer in successive Rann governments from 2002, he worked and played in the public gaze, sometimes to his own regret after seeing the next day’s headlines.
Yes, the turbulent times of Kevin Owen Foley have been tremendous entertainment all the way through. From his merciless verbal tirades as the hard man of Labor politics, to his nightclubbing, to the public revelation that he was receiving treatment for depression, he’s been easy meat for wagging tongues.
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Since he resigned from the cabinet last October, coinciding with Mike Rann’s resignation as premier, Foley has spent time thinking of something new to do in his life other than politics. But what else, aside from politics, could offer him the same buzz? What are his career options?
Given he spent 10 years at the highest levels of state government, he must have something to offer the business world. So which boardrooms would be willing to embrace him and which would nervously steer clear of him? Now we know the answer, more or less.
Yesterday, flanked by his two sons at a media conference alongside the historic Port Adelaide lighthouse, Kevin announced he would be setting up shop as a self-employed consultant of sorts, having declined “overwhelming” and unnamed job offers.
He is apparently flirting with the idea of joining Bespoke Approach, the Adelaide-based corporate and political lobby firm that includes former Liberal foreign minister Alexander Downer and ex-Labor senator Nick Bolkus. Yet he said yesterday that becoming a straight-out political lobbyist was not for him. He talked vaguely about offering “strategic advice”.
This could be a problem, since state government rules forbid an ex-cabinet minister from having business dealings with the government in his former ministries for two years. Among Foley’s portfolio mix has been Treasury, Defence Industries and Police, so it could be slim pickings for quite a while.
He’ll manage, though. His lifetime parliamentary pension of $200,000 a year should see him through the next couple of years without too much hardship.
The official reason for yesterday’s media call was for Foley to announce he had formally resigned from his state seat of Port Adelaide, which he has held since 1993.
It was an untypically subdued performance. There were no tears or histrionics. The journos were not lambasted for their various acts of bastardry. No bones to pick with anyone. No denouncements of his many enemies.
No criticism of his own party, either, despite spending 20 years of hard graft to climb the slippery Labor pole, only to be viewed towards the end as an electoral liability.
Foley probably sensed his time was about up after the 2010 state election. Certain members of his own Labor sub-branch at Port Adelaide had fallen out of love with him by then. He was thought to have lost contact with the grassroots support.
He no longer lived in the electorate, but had defected to trendy Parkside on the Adelaide city fringe. He also got seriously offside with the Port Adelaide RSL after initially opposing the naming of a new Port River crossing as the “Diver Derrick Bridge”, in honour of a local World War II hero.
Revolt was in the air. Labor old-timers were heard to mock Foley in the front bars around the Port. Scuttlebutt around the traps even suggested the sub-branch was having difficulty finding party stalwarts to volunteer for the odd-jobs that needed doing in the lead-up to the election.
Foley soon saw the sense of returning from Parkside to a rented apartment at West Lakes, back in the fold of the Port electorate.
In the 2002 election that first delivered the premiership to Rann, Foley held Port Adelaide by a 21.8% margin. In the 2006 election, his margin peaked at an unassailable 25%. Then the 2010 state election saw Foley crash into a hole — a two-party swing against him of 13.4% to finish on a margin of 12.8%.
With him now finally out of the way, the ALP hard-heads have pinned their hopes on lawyer Susan Close to rescue the seat at the 2014 election.
Her opponent is the local mayor Gary Johanson, a populist who claims Labor and Liberal roots. Though still ranked safe for Labor, the seat is no longer assumed to be unassailable, thanks to Foley.
Kevin will be missed from the SA political scene. Of those who will miss him, the media will miss him most of all.
On the way out, Foley told reporters yesterday that he was “very satisfied” with what he had done in politics: “If you had’ve said to me when I walked out of Royal Park High School at 16, half-way through year 11, that I would one day be the deputy premier and treasurer of this great state for nearly nine years, I would have said you were joking. It’s had its ups, it’s had its downs, it’s had its crazy moments and it’s had its enormous pleasures.”
So that’s it for K-Fol. As he was holding his media conference, Rann was tweeting:
“Thanks and good luck to Kevin Foley on his retirement from Parliament. He’s made a huge contribution to SA’s economic development. He played a crucial role in restoring SA Govt finances (regaining and retaining AAA) winning defence contracts, Olympic Dam negotiations. He ensured that Cabinet was financially responsible as we heavily increased our infrastructure investment, and doubled funding to health.”
It’s as if Rann believes people are still listening.
All eyes now turn to Rann himself, who is under pressure to follow suit and also resign his seat of Ramsay in Adelaide’s northern suburbs. If there has to be a Port Adelaide by-election — expected late February or March — then it makes sense have one in Ramsay, too, for the sake of electoral efficiency and cost-saving.
It’s hard to think of another career that Rann will find as fulfilling as premier. Even on the worst days, being premier was a whole lot better than sitting in an office waiting for the phone to ring for strategic advice.
*This article first appeared at InDaily