Fran Kelly: Minister good morning.

Andrew Robb: Good morning Fran.

Fran Kelly: I wonder if you are feeling it’s a good morning today, given you made this announcement last night, and I should say congratulations on your political career.  But now you’ve made this announcement, do you have any regrets?

Andrew Robb: No, I’ve thought about it obviously for a long time, I really made a decision over the Christmas break.  I think the time’s right; I’ve got another career in me I think; there’s things I want to do.  I am 64 going on 65 and I don’t really want to be starting another business at 68-69 so that, and the fact that I feel the Government’s in very good shape.  I think the talent coming through is outstanding, so I don’t feel that I’m leaving the party in a difficult position – quite the contrary – so it’s time to move on, and hand over the baton.

Fran Kelly: Starting another business, is that what you want to do? Starting your own business?

Andrew Robb: Well I had my own business before I came into the parliament, advising lots of companies on major deals and other things; it was successful and I enjoyed it, so I think that’s probably the best course of action, but I’ll keep an open mind over the next few months.  I’ve still got the trade job for a few months; I’ve got a couple of big things to finish so I’m going to stay focused on that until I move on properly.

Fran Kelly: I’ll come back to that.  So no regrets about this decision; what about regrets overall of your career.  It’s been a successful career and I think in your couple of years as Trade Minister, very successful, but you have faced your own issue with depression since you’ve been in the parliament and you’ve been very public about that; you’ve written your own story, it’s in a book called ‘Black Dog Daze’, did that daze limit your political career; you had leadership aspirations, you’re on the public record about that.  Did your illness curb your aspirations?  Is that a regret?

Andrew Robb: Perhaps the timing of properly tackling it and admitting to myself that I did have a serious depressive condition, that timing probably wasn’t flash to be honest, but I’ve got absolutely no regrets; I’m so pleased that I did deal with it.  I couldn’t certainly have done any of the more responsible positions unless I’d tackled it, and it turned out I’ve had the best four or five years since I was 12 years of age.  

I’ve got nothing to complain about whatsoever; lots of people – hundreds of thousands, if not millions – they carry a chronic back condition through life or they have other issues, it’s just something you live with and adjust to, make the most of.  I’ve been blessed with unbelievable opportunities; I’ve had all sorts of different experiences that I carry with me every day and I’ve had a wonderful happy family life, both when I was a child and since I married Maureen, so I’ve got absolutely nothing to complain about.  I’ve been very blessed, so I go to the next stage with a lot of enthusiasm, and I’m looking to have a go at something else.

Fran Kelly: I want to come back to the politics in a minute, but just to stay with the mental health issue because you’ve also said you’d like to do more work in this area.  Just listening to you then saying that you’re so glad you got to the point where you could admit to yourself there’s something wrong; is this the biggest area, we’ve talked about stigma, we’ve done a lot of work on that, but individuals admitting to themselves, ‘I’m not well’, as you say if it was a broken leg you’d know about it, if it was a migraine you’d have no trouble talking about it, but admitting to yourself there’s something wrong, and does our whole system from GPs up, need to be better at helping people understand that that’s important and that that is where they’re at?

Andrew Robb: It’s a huge issue and the stigma has improved, but it’s still there.  For so long it’s been interpreted that anyone with any sort of mental health issue, has got a character weakness; not good in a crisis.  Well I’ve run 33-day campaigns and there’s a crisis a minute for 23 hours of the day.  I was best in a crisis, always have been, because the adrenalin would pump and my head would clear and I’d be in great shape.  You can’t just characterise people with conditions as to how they would react in any particular position. If I was 40 again, I’ve got to say I’ve thought about this a lot because I get asked about it, I wouldn’t go public with my problem, but I’d certainly admit it to myself, I’d certainly go and seek professional help, I’d certainly tell loved ones around me and I’d certainly seek to manage it because well over 80 per cent of people can either cure it or manage it, and go on and live an absolutely normal life.

Fran Kelly: Andrew you’re staying on in Cabinet as Trade Minister until that time (the election) I understand because the Prime Minister has asked you to and we now know the Prime Minister asked Warren Truss to delay the announcement of his retirement for a while too – we expect to get that today.  In the last six months or so, Cabinet has lost Tony Abbott, Eric Abetz, Kevin Andrews, soon Warren Truss, junior ministers Jamie Briggs and Mal Brough is also gone.  Stuart Robert, we’re not sure what his fate will be, so it’s not surprising perhaps that Malcolm Turnbull asked you to stay around for a bit of stability.  Labor is calling all this change on the front bench a recipe for chaos, certainly the Government is losing a lot of experience and therefore a lot of stability at a time pretty close to an election; is that a problem?

Andrew Robb: Well, no.  I think we’re in better shape in a stability sense than we’ve been for a long, long time. But also the regeneration that occurred in September; I can say around the Cabinet table, one: there’s still a wealth of experience, but also we’ve got the next generation who’ve injected a whole new sense of enthusiasm, and perspective; they’ve got a different perspective to the older members around the Cabinet table.  This has been a real plus I feel for us, but not only that, we’ve still got a lot of exceptional talent coming through on the backbench; we’re blessed at the moment with a much stronger party room than I’ve ever seen in my 30 years in and around politics, and I think we’re in very good shape.  There’s plenty of people there to move up and take over the responsibilities.  I’ve got every confidence that we will present at the next election, a very strong team, one that can take the country forward and continue the fact that we are as a country, in a better position than any other developed country in the world.

Fran Kelly: Just one final question then; you’ve been around politics and the Liberal Party for a long time, what about the potential for division in the party room, because Paul Bongiorno told us earlier in the program that he has been told by some in the Liberal Party, that the allegations of Stuart Robert and the details of what he was doing in China were actually leaked on purpose by those who are cranky at Malcolm Turnbull, cranky at Scott Morrison, cranky at Stuart Robert for voting for Malcolm Turnbull.  If that’s true, that’s quite extreme division in the ranks isn’t it?

Andrew Robb: There’s always, especially after a leadership change, there’s always a number disaffected.  On my assessment, that is a very small number, and overwhelmingly we’ve got a great unity of purpose, I think, in the party room; it’s my keen sense of it.  Nothing has leaked out of Cabinet, now that’s a new situation on both sides of politics for about eight years, so nothing has leaked out of Cabinet, it’s a very strong esprit de corps, we are working so effectively  as a Cabinet government, as an executive government.  I do feel that honestly, there’s always some disaffected people – that’s life – but we have got the essence of a very strong team going into this next election.

Fran Kelly: Andrew Robb, thank you very much for joining us on Breakfast.

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