Australian Defence Minister resigns

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Australian Defence Minister, Liberal Senator Robert Hill, 59, has resigned after almost a quarter of a century in Parliament and confirmed he will retire from the Senate. The Senator has been the longest serving leader of his party in the Upper House since Federation.

Robert Murray Hill was elected to the Senate for South Australia in 1980. Having spent 13 years in Opposition, he was appointed Environment Minister when the Howard Government was elected in 1996. He will serve out his final few days in the Senate in the next session of parliament.

Prime Minister Howard said Senator Hill's exit after almost 25 years in Parliament and 13 years as Liberal Senate leader would be a "huge loss" for the Government.

Mr Hill said it was good to make a decision to leave parliament before he was forced out for other reasons.

At his farewell media conference on Friday, he said he has "no regrets." Questioned over the wisdom of Australia's involvement in the Iraq war he said, "...there was a time where we saw defence simply in terms of almost hiding behind the moat. We no longer do that."

"We go out and we look after Australia's interests and we become part of an international community that's interested in security and stability, and we're prepared to take risks to achieve those goals," he said.

The Australia Defence Association praised his efforts as defence minister, a position he has held since November, 2001. "He's easily the best defence minister of the Howard government and the best, along with (Labor's) Robert Ray since the 1970s," Defence Association spokesman Neil James said.

It's widely expected that Robert Hill will become the next Australian representative to the United Nations in New York. Senator Hill yesterday articulated a case for reform of the global body. "This Government believes in collective security, it believes in the commitments of the charter, but it would like to see the UN work efficiently and effectively," he said.

The most likely candidates for the defence portfolio are Finance Minister Nick Minchin and Health Minister Tony Abbott.