Another Liberal MP quits politics
Former Coalition minister Stuart Robert has officially quit federal parliament, triggering a by-election in the seat of Fadden on Queensland’s Gold Coast.
The Liberal MP had already said he intended to retire from politics and has now handed in his formal resignation letter to House of Representatives speaker Milton Dick.
Mr Dick released a statement on Thursday confirming he had received Mr Robert’s letter and said he was now considering possible dates for the Fadden by-election.
His formal resignation will further fuel speculation Scott Morrison will also bow out of politics, with the former prime minister rumoured to have plans to quit in the coming months or even weeks.
Mr Robert, who is the opposition assistant Treasury spokesman, missed parliament last week despite it being budget week, after announcing his plans to quit earlier this month.
Anthony Albanese had blasted Mr Robert’s decision not to attend parliament while still collecting a taxpayer-funded salary as “completely unacceptable”.
“If you’re a member of parliament, your basic duty – unless there’s a good reason why you’re not in parliament, with other duties or ill health – you have to turn up,” the Prime Minister told reporters on Wednesday.
“He continues to be paid as the representative of the people of Fadden and they deserve better.”
Mr Albanese said Labor hadn’t decided on its plans for the Fadden by-election as he played down expectations the government could win the safe Liberal seat.
New Labor MP Mary Doyle made history last month when she won the seat of Aston from the Coalition at a by-election triggered by the resignation of another former Liberal cabinet minister, Alan Tudge.
Gold Coast City councillor Cameron Caldwell and emergency doctor and disability advocate Dinesh Palipana, a former Queenslander of the Year, have entered the race for LNP preselection to contest Fadden.
Party nominations for the seat – which Mr Robert retained with a margin of 10.6 per cent at last year’s election – close on Friday, with the by-election set to be another test for both Mr Albanese and the Opposition Leader.
Liberal frontbencher Angus Taylor said earlier this month every by-election was “tough” as he framed the upcoming contest in Fadden as a test of how the Albanese government was handling the economy.
Mr Robert was first elected to Fadden in 2007 and held a number of ministerial portfolios under successive Coalition governments, including employment and skills, veterans’ affairs and the NDIS.
Despite spending the year in opposition, the past 12 months haven’t been smooth sailing for the ex-minister.
Mr Robert returned to the public eye earlier this year when he fronted a public hearing of the royal commission into robodebt.
Speaking at the inquiry, Mr Robert admitted he knowingly misrepresented the Centrelink scheme despite his personal misgivings about the illegal debt recovery program, claiming he had “no choice” but to defend government policy.
Mr Robert said at the time he took “absolute responsibility” for the illegal scheme, conceding he had made false statements about robodebt in the past, including that the debt calculated in more than 99 per cent of cases was correct.
He added he made the claims about the program having such a small margin of error because he was “a cabinet minister” and “that’s what we do”, even though he had “a massive personal misgiving” about the use of income averaging to calculate alleged welfare debts.
Late last year, Labor ordered an investigation into government contracts which were reportedly improperly linked to Mr Robert, although he strenuously denied the allegations.