Oct 12, 2004

PM – Senator John Faulkner resigns as Opposition Leader in the Senate

PM – Senator John Faulkner resigns as Opposition Leader in the Senate

Tuesday 12 October 2004

MARK COLVIN: Stop press: Australian politician takes full responsibility for own mistakes. Labor Senator John Faulkner today became the first of Labor’s senior frontbenchers to resign in the post election wash up.

John Faulkner said he would stand up to take responsibility for his own role as, he said, should others.

He says that after eight-and-a-half years there "simply isn’t enough petrol in the tank" to stay on as Opposition leader in the Senate for another three. He’ll remain on the red benches, but no longer as a Shadow Minister.

John Faulkner says Labor needs to change, but he says the Party’s post mortems belong behind closed doors.

From Canberra, Chief Political Correspondent, Catherine McGrath.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: There has never been anyone in Parliament quite like John Faulkner and today he decided to go to the backbench.

JOHN FAULKNER: I’m announcing that I will not be a candidate for the leadership of the Labor Party in the Senate when Caucus meets next week.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: The election loss has taken its toll.

JOHN FAULKNER: And I can’t deny the disappointment I have about Labor’s extended term in Opposition.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: John Faulkner accepts his role in the loss.

JOHN FAULKNER: And in every losing election I believe it’s proper for the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party to step up and accept responsibility. There’s individual responsibility, there’s collective responsibility. I accept my share of that responsibility.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: With Labor facing three more years in Opposition, John Faulkner says now is the time to let others take on his leadership role.

JOHN FAULKNER: I just wouldn’t have any petrol left in the tank, if we win, as I hope we will, and believe we will, and some times, some times politicians have to step up and be very honest about this.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: In the ALP he’ll be remembered as a true Labor parliamentary hero, who pushed and questioned the Government and public servants over uncomfortable issues like children overboard, and SIEV X – the drowning of 353 asylum seekers on their way to Australia – and he was relentless on the subject of government waste and mismanagement.

The very reason he’s an ALP hero has made him hated in Government circles and feared by elements of the public service.

This is just a sampling of his caustic exchanges over the years. First, on the children overboard:

JOHN FAULKNER: Are you now satisfied that children were not thrown overboard in relation to SIEV Four incident?

PUBLIC SERVANT: I don’t know.


JOHN FAULKNER: Were disruption activities directed against Abu Quassey? Did these involve Siev X? I intend to keep asking questions until I find out.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: And his legendary criticism of John Howard’s office furniture that led to a fight with then Liberal Senator, Margaret Reid:

JOHN FAULKNER: They complement the Chesterfields?


JOHN FAULKNER: Well that’d be a hard ask. How do they complement the Chesterfields?

PUBLIC SERVANT: Well … they … in the sense that they’re the same.

JOHN FAULKNER: Given the Chesterfields don’t complement the suite, I wonder …

MARGARET REID: The Chesterfields do complement the suite and the chairs match the Chesterfields.

JOHN FAULKNER: I’m sorry. I’ve realised, Madame President, that you’re … you have a different view to those from the Department of the Senate and Joint House who are expert in aesthetics.

MARGARET REID: I challenge that.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: Today John Faulkner didn’t want to talk publicly about where Labor went wrong on Saturday. That debate, he says, belongs inside the party.

JOHN FAULKNER: Changes do have to be made, and we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, and that’s obviously going to be an important task for our party in the weeks and months ahead.

REPORTER: What are those changes?

JOHN FAULKNER: We’ve got to change. That’s what the next few months will be about, and they’re matters for the Labor Party to deal with. As I say, I’m not going to share my analysis with you or our Liberal opponents.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: But he took a swipe at Labor insider, Michael Costello, Kim Beazley’s former chief of staff, for his criticism of the campaign.

JOHN FAULKNER: I think that the Labor Party has been very generous to Michael Costello for a quarter of a century. I think perhaps, like all of us, like all of us, he should think about his own successes and failures. Perhaps he could think about his failures in the 2001 election campaign. Perhaps, perhaps, Michael Costello has said enough.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: During the election campaign, John Faulkner was one of Mark Latham’s key advisers, shadowing him for the entire six weeks, and today Mark Latham paid tribute to John Faulkner.

MARK LATHAM: Senator Faulkner’s been an outstanding leader of the Labor Party in that chamber for the past eight-and-a-half years, since we went into Opposition in 1996. He set a very high standard for what can be achieved in terms of holding the Government to account through Question Time and his legendary use of the Senate Estimates.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: Over the years John Faulkner has been involved in a some huge factional battles, including one with Mark Latham back in 1989, but it was the decision by the New South Wales right to place him as the left candidate, second on the Senate ticket for New South Wales at this election that really annoyed him.

Left factional leader, Anthony Albanese.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   Well I think that was a clearly absurd decision to place the leader of the Labor Party in the Senate at number two on the ticket. That showed the very sectarian nature of some people who were then in the organisational leadership of the party.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: If he hadn’t been dropped to second spot, do you think he might be staying on now?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   No I don’t think that’s the case. This is a decision which John Faulkner’s made which he believes is in the interests of the Party, but I think John Faulkner tried very hard in the lead-up to the preselection for the Senate ticket to state the obvious common sense, which was the need for him to lead the ticket.

He got, certainly, the best vote that anyone from the New South Wales left has ever got at a state conference, and the support of leading figures from the New South Wales right, including Paul Keating and Gough Whitlam, and that showed, that showed, I think, the standing that he has in the New South Wales branch, and indeed nationally.

There hasn’t been a more significant figure in the organisational wing of the party over the last 20 years than John Faulkner.

MARK COLVIN: Anthony Albanese, ending Catherine McGrath’s report.