WA Treasurer Ben Wyatt has announced his shock decision to quit politics at next year’s state election, walking away from what he said was an “extraordinary” job to be “more present” for his wife and two daughters.
- Mr Wyatt will continue as a Minister until the 2021 election
- He says the decision was prompted by a family health issue
- Premier Mark McGowan lauded Mr Wyatt’s life as a ‘great story’
The first Indigenous treasurer of any Australian parliament, Mr Wyatt was a 31-year-old lawyer when he was elected as the MP for Victoria Park in 2006, in a by-election triggered by the sudden resignation of then premier Geoff Gallop.
Mr Wyatt said the decision had not been easy, but he wanted to spend more time with his wife and two daughters following what he referred to as a personal health issue in his family.
“I doubt I will ever have a job as diverse, as challenging and as satisfying as the role I have had as Treasurer of Western Australia,” he said.
“I came in [to Parliament] at 31 years of age, thinking everything was possible, and everything has been possible.
“[Being] Treasurer of Western Australia is something I never would have imagined when I was at school.”
Family trumps the lure of Canberra
Mr Wyatt said since being appointed Treasurer in 2017, he had achieved his key task of restoring growth to the WA economy and returning the state budget to surplus.
But he said in recent months he had been reflecting on the demands of the job and the effect on his personal life.
He has two school-aged daughters and his wife is recovering from a breast cancer diagnosis.
“When I first got elected, I didn’t have any kids,” he said.
“My daughters have only ever known me as an MP and minister, which means they don’t see much of me.
“My children are of an age where it leaves me with a short time to relish new experiences with them while they still want to hang out with me, and before they reach the senior levels of high school.
For much of his career, Mr Wyatt was considered a future premier or candidate for federal politics, but he ruled out any future bid for Canberra.
“I have friends in federal politics on both sides of the house and how they do it from WA with children is beyond me,” he said.
Mr Wyatt made an ill-fated tilt at the leadership of the WA Labor Party in 2011, mounting an unsuccessful challenge to then opposition leader Eric Ripper.
“Some of you [journalists] were here when I made it crystal clear when I wanted to be premier, and we saw how that went,” he joked.
Mr Wyatt will continue as the Treasurer and Minister for Finance, Aboriginal Affairs and Lands for the remainder of this term.
Resignation ends ‘a great story’
WA Premier Mark McGowan described Mr Wyatt as an “outstanding” Treasurer, saying the pair had worked “hand in glove” for the past decade.
“Ben was a kid who went to school at Laverton Primary school, an Aboriginal boy from out there who rose to become the Treasurer of Western Australia,” he said.
“It’s a marvellous story and something that all West Australians should be very proud of.”
Mr Wyatt said he wanted to see more Aboriginal Australians in senior roles in government and the private sector.
“Opportunity is everywhere,” he said.
Mr Wyatt said progressing native title claims was one of his proudest achievements in the Aboriginal Affairs portfolio.
“I’ll always be in that Aboriginal affairs space in one way or the other until the day I die and I’m quite pleased by that, it’s a privilege of my heritage,” he said.
Praise from both sides of politics
Federal Liberal Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt, who is also a cousin of Ben Wyatt, acknowledged his contributions to politics in a series of tweets.
“While we belong to different political parties, we share an unwavering commitment to the people of WA and Indigenous Australians across our nation,” the Member for the WA seat of Hasluck said.
“Increasing Indigenous representation in our parliaments is a purpose not owned by either side of politics.
“I wish Ben all the very best as he starts his next chapter and recognise that this decision has been made in the best interests of his family.”
Liberal MP and former treasurer Mike Nahan, who has also announced his decision to quit at the next election, offered his best wishes to Mr Wyatt and his family.
Dr Gallop said it was clear early on that Mr Wyatt had a promising career in politics ahead of him.
“He brought to the Parliament, of course, legal skills, a lot of economic knowledge, he’s a real intellect, but what’s important about an intellect is that they can work with the people in their electorates,” he said.
“I think those people who live in Victoria Park will remember a very enthusiastic, a very friendly, a very engaging and a very hardworking local member.”
Dr Gallop said Mr Wyatt brought that same enthusiasm and talent to his cabinet positions.
“He made a very big contribution to Labor’s winning the election, he’s been an excellent Treasurer in terms of getting the books back into order, making sure there’s a sustainable future for the budget,” he said.
“And, importantly, he’s given good leadership to Indigenous people all throughout Western Australia — common-sense leadership backed up with a real sense of commitment and justice.”
Business lauds a ‘modern Treasurer’
The resignation announcement was met with surprise by the business community and colleagues from across the political divide.
Federal Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said Mr Wyatt had “provided great service to the state”.
“It’s been a privilege to work with him to resolve a number of key federal-state issues of importance to our state,” he tweeted.
WA Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Chris Rodwell said Mr Wyatt was “the model of a modern Treasurer”.
Property Council of WA executive director Sandra Brewer said Mr Wyatt’s decision to leave politics was a loss to the state.
“The Treasurer has shown a great capacity not just to manage to finances, but to listen to the concerns of those advocating for better fiscal policy, stimulus to create jobs and planning for a well-designed, well-resourced future Perth,” she said.
Shock and disappointment in Victoria Park
Along Victoria Park’s cafe strip on Albany Highway, many people were saddened to learn of Mr Wyatt’s intended departure.
Resident Pat Booth said as her local member, Mr Wyatt had done a lot for her and her disabled daughter Devina.
“I’ve always said that Ben would make the next best premier for here … it’s pretty sad that he’s going,” she said.
Consultant John Wright said Mr Wyatt had been an asset for WA.
“It’s going to be a loss to the state. He seems to have done a very good job, he seems to be fair, his comments are always good, he seems to be transparent too. You can’t ask for more than that,” he said.
Car dealer John Hughes said it was a complete shock and a big disappointment.
“And I think the economy in WA, considering all that’s going on around it, considering where we’ve come from, is going pretty well considering.
“It’s a big loss for the Victoria Park community … he’s a genuine fellow and quite frankly he was a likely premier, no doubt, so that’s a big loss.”
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