Former resources minister Martin Ferguson has announced that he will quit Parliament at the election.
Ferguson, a Rudd supporter and one of the ministers who stood down after the March leadership crisis, had said then he would recontest his Melbourne seat of Batman.
But he told Parliament today he believed his decision to leave was in the best interests of his party and his family.
In a sometimes emotional speech, Ferguson took a swipe at the “class rhetoric” for which Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan have been criticised.
He said that in his union career – he is a former president of the ACTU – and his parliamentary years “my main motivation has been to get Australians into decent, well-paying jobs.
"This is what the Labor party means to me: helping those less fortunate in life by providing new jobs and opportunities to achieve a better quality of life.
"Creating opportunities by working with business is not the same thing as pointless class rhetoric. In essence we need to grow the pie to share it.”
Opposition leader Tony Abbott, who also became emotional, described Ferguson, who comes from a family of Labor politicians as “Labor party royalty”. “I salute an honourable opponent and a great Australian”, he told Parliament.
Ferguson, with his strongly market-based approach, is highly respected in the business community; his decision not to recontest will be seen as another sign of a sinking Labor ship.
He was resources minister from the election of the Rudd government in 2007 until he stood down. He told Parliament he was proud to have facilitated the biggest pipeline of investment in the resources sector that Australia had ever seen.
He said Australia had the capacity to secure a second pipeline of investment, especially in the LNG sector “if we focus our attention on the fundamentals of attracting investment, including getting costs under control and achieving regulatory reform.”
Many tried to “demonise” the resources industry, he said. “But we should not forget that it accounts for 60 per cent of our export wealth – wealth that has meant that we can take better care of our community, improve the lives of Australians and give opportunities to those who never thought that they could do the things they now do in that sector”.
He was also proud of the micro-economic reform process he had continued to deliver in the energy sector – “competition reforms established under the Keating government. I am proud that I have stayed true to the market principles underpinning the sector to deliver an efficient and reliable essential service to the community”.
He again paid tribute to the Hawke-Keating reform years, as he did when he stood down from the ministry.
Gillard said Ferguson had been “a pivotal part of a number of great Labor achievements”.
Abbott recalled that he had in times past “somewhat slightingly referred to the ‘hereditary peers’ of this Parliament.
"I regret, on this occasion, that I did so then. I should not have made light of the tradition which the member for Batman represents, the tradition of service to party and country which [he] and his family has represented for several generations.”
Abbott said that Ferguson respected the party he served. “I should say, from this side of the parliament, we too respect the party he has served. Over the years the Labor party has made a monumental contribution to this country. The Labor party at its best, has been a nation-building party.” And Ferguson “has always hearkened to the best traditions of the Australian Labor Party.”
He regretted Ferguson felt unable to stay in the Parliament and unable to remain in the current government. “The government, his party, the parliament and our country will be the poorer for his absence.”
“Well may we shed a tear… for things which were, which should be, but which are not, and from this side of the political trench, I salute an honourable opponent and a great Australian.”
Kevin Rudd described Ferguson as “one of the lions of the Australian labour movement, the most respected resources and energy minister in Australian history, someone who always know his stuff and one of the world’s genuinely good human beings.”
He said Ferguson’s enduring legacy would be his role in the restructuring of the Australian economy – the cornerstone of our 21 successive years of our economic and employment growth.
“At a personal level I believe Martin Ferguson was one of the most outstanding ministers of the Rudd government.”
Ferguson has been the member for Batman since 1996 and said today’s was his first backbench speech - he had gone straight onto the Labor frontbench after he entered parliament.