Australian Greens leader Bob Brown has praised Lindsay Tanner, saying the outgoing finance minister had given long and honourable service to the nation.
Mr Tanner, who was facing a strong challenge from the Greens in his seat of Melbourne, won’t contest the next election.
Senator Brown has told ABC TV that Tanner’s decision to leave federal politics would make the fight for a seat Labor has held since 1904 much more interesting.
Greens eyeing Tanner’s seat
The decision is a blow to Labor and puts the Australian Greens closer to a historic win in Mr Tanner’s marginal inner city seat of Melbourne.
Mr Tanner, who has bought a farm outside of Melbourne, said he was quitting politics to spend more time with his wife and four children.
He told the House of Representatives that his exit was “driven entirely, absolutely by matters of personal circumstances” and had nothing to do with the change in leadership.
“There are frankly two little girls, and indeed two older kids, who need me more than the country needs me,” Mr Tanner said.
He said every day apart from his family was painful. He has two children – Jemma and James – from a previous relationship, and young daughters called Ainsley and Remy with his wife Andrea.
Mr Tanner is understood to have backed Kevin Rudd in Thursday’s leadership challenge, but it appears this was not related to his resignation as he had told Mr Rudd of his plan to leave weeks ago.
As finance minister, Mr Tanner was part of the government’s powerful four-person committee dubbed the “kitchen cabinet”, which made key government decisions, sometimes in isolation from the wider cabinet.
Gillard muted in tribute
The former lawyer and current member of Labor’s left faction is seen as articulate and something of a Labor intellectual.
Some saw him as a potential treasurer or thought he could go even higher.
Mr Tanner told parliament he would be happy to stay on as finance minister until the election, expected within months, but would step aside if Ms Gillard wished it.
Ms Gillard did not indicate her preference, instead paying tribute to a man she has known since she was 19.
“We’ve had our moments of agreement, we’ve had our moments of disagreement, but I think we’ve … had a friendship and a respect,” she told the House of Representatives.
Mr Tanner’s resignation is a fillip to the Greens, who are hoping to make history by winning his seat. It would be the first time the party won a federal House of Representatives seat at a general election.
Labor holds the seat by a slim 4.7 per cent margin; the Greens outpolled the Liberals at the last election.
With the Greens polling at record highs nationally the party sees Melbourne as its best chance of a win.
Adam Bandt, the Greens’ candidate for Melbourne, said Mr Tanner had served the people of his electorate well – as he targeted his seat.
“I look forward to continuing to campaign to become the first Green elected to the House of Representatives in a general election to the Australian parliament,” Mr Bandt said in a statement.
Mr Tanner said he hoped to find work in the business or academic worlds and did not intend to play a significant role in politics.
He also planned to use his life outside parliament to press for a better life for African Australians.
Mr Tanner said many people in the community and the parliament would feel let down by his decision, and apologised to them.