Leigh Sales: Mr Robb congratulations on your parliamentary career; why have you decided that now is the time to retire?

Andrew Robb: Thanks Leigh. In many ways I just felt it was the right time.  There are a number of contributing factors; I’m 64 and in excellent health, I feel I’ve got another career left in me, there’s things I want to do, particularly in the private sector and some in the mental health space, and I didn’t want to leave that too late; I’d be 68-69 after the next term and I felt that was leaving it too late. 

Also, everyone goes into politics to make a difference, on both sides in my view.  I’ve been given some great opportunities in the last few years, and I won’t leave with any sense of not having had some opportunities to make a contribution.  As well, the Turnbull Government is in great shape, so I don’t feel that I need to stay to try and assist there; there’s a great team coming through and it’s their turn I think, we’ve got some real talent in the ministry and the backbench, and it’s time I think to hand over the baton.

Leigh Sales: Just on that point, the former Howard Government Minister Amanda Vanstone said recently that she thought some of the old Liberal guard should retire; Bronwyn Bishop, Philip Ruddock who is retiring, Tony Abbott, to make way for new talent to come in, which is a little bit of what you’re doing, do you think that some other people should follow your example?

Andrew Robb: It’s not appropriate for me to make decisions for other people; it’s not easy to give up the opportunities and the experience and the contribution that people can still make even after they’ve finished their ministerial career.  I’ve got some other things I want to do, but I don’t want to speak for others.

Leigh Sales: You’ve been in a meeting with the Prime Minister in the last couple of hours, what did you discuss and particularly have you discussed the timing of when you’ll actually step down from the ministry?  Will you stay there until the next election or will you go sooner rather than later?

Andrew Robb: I have had conversations, not just today, but earlier with the Prime Minister.  He has said to me that he’d like me to stay on for some time – some months perhaps – so that I can try and complete a couple of important areas of business that I have got to a fairly advanced stage; I’m very keen to do that and he’ll make an announcement in due course as to when I’ll step down and who’ll replace me.

Leigh Sales: You said earlier that you think that the Turnbull Government is going well, but how much of a distraction is it that the Turnbull Government’s already faced, with a reasonably substantial Cabinet reshuffle about six months into its life, and fewer than six months out from a federal election?

Andrew Robb: Usually you can anticipate that there will be some people who are going to look to resign and to retire from politics at least, and obviously they didn’t do it a year ago – I didn’t do it a year ago, I hadn’t made my decision until Christmas – and in that sense it’s not unusual to see some people go.  Other than that there are two junior positions to fill in the ministry.  I don’t see anything peculiar about it.

Leigh Sales: Sticking with your point about the way the Turnbull Government’s travelling, when the Prime Minister first took over as Prime Minister he said that he wouldn’t be rushed into pushing out policies; that he wanted to consult and get things right.  But is the Government running the risk that you’re taking too long to put polices out there?

Andrew Robb: I think people are not sitting back and really examining how the economy is going.  Australia has a long history – and don’t I know it, over 30 years off-and-on in public life in different capacities including running the National Farmers’ Federation – we’re always looking at what we can improve and what is wrong that we can improve. I travel the world spending over 200 nights away overseas each year for the last two and a half years, and I see how other economies are going, and compared to other economies – notwithstanding the fact that the mining boom is over – here we are with unemployment rates that have dropped from 6.5 to 5.8, we’ve got the highest rate of growth in the developed world; everyone is asking me as I travel around the world ‘how have you done this?’.

Leigh Sales: But nonetheless the Government has put out there that they want to have a look at some tax reform, but isn’t there the risk that if you take too long you create a bit of a vacuum like we’ve seen with the GST, where Labor is out there running a scare campaign saying that there is definitely going to be changes. There is a big debate that you’re not leading because you haven’t announced your policy yet and it puts you on the back foot.

Andrew Robb: Look, tax is important and we will do some things on tax but I suppose my point is that there is not a crisis that the Government has to deal with. We have to keep pushing for reform, I agree with that, and you never stop reforming an economy no matter who is in Government, you have to keep going, but the fact is that a lot of people are sick to death of the endless, very controversial and adversarial government; people want a period of stability and there is confidence in the community, there is high confidence in the business sector, jobs are being created, we are outperforming the rest of the developed world.  Now, we have to not be complacent, let’s examine how we can maintain some stability.  Confidence is a very big factor; we’ve got all these opportunities that have opened up because of the free trade agreements on our doorstep. The next 10, 20, 30 years for Australia – if we play our cards correctly – can be spectacular.

Leigh Sales: Just one final question before I let you go, you mentioned your advocacy work for mental illness that you began due to your own battles with depression. Do you think that since you have been involved in that space, that you have seen any progress in community attitudes in that area?

Andrew Robb: Certainly, it’s not just myself; there have been others out there talking about their own particular circumstances, and I think that it has led to, yes a change in the environment that we work in. Mental health is I think the one area that has the least amount of focus on it in the whole area of health for decades. The stigma has been broken down and that is leading to more people being prepared to step up, more champions for the sector and more money coming in.  In fact we are starting to lead the world on mental health and yet there is still a long way to go, and even on the stigma issue, it’s not satisfactorily dealt with yet, but we have made a lot of progress.

Leigh Sales: Andrew Robb, thank you very much and hopefully we will have you on a few more times before you finish up.

Andrew Robb: Thanks very much Leigh.

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