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Labor frontbencher Kate Ellis to quit parliament

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UPDATED: Outgoing Adelaide MP and Labor frontbencher Kate Ellis says she hopes her legacy won't be to discourage women entering federal parliament, after she today announced she was standing down at the next election for family reasons.

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The South Australian Labor Party is expecting a conga-line of contenders to step forward to replace the high-profile shadow minister for Early Childhood and Development, after she revealed she “cannot bear the thought” of being away from her young son Samuel, who turns two next month.

However, Ellis insists she has “no intention of causing a by-election or walking away from the job I was elected to do”, insisting she doesn’t have a “back-up plan” – including entering state parliament.

“I’d be very surprised if I ended up in a different parliament,” said the one-time adviser to former Treasurer Kevin Foley.

“I absolutely intend to represent the people of Adelaide to the best of my ability for the months and years until the next federal election.”

In a letter to constituents distributed last night, Ellis explained that “whilst my son could travel with me as a baby, during the next term of parliament he will start school and needs to stay in Adelaide”.

“The simple truth is that I just cannot bear the thought of spending at least 20 weeks of every year in Canberra away from him and the rest of my family,” she wrote.

But in a media conference today, she insisted her departure – announced to constituents on International Women’s Day – was not a vindication of former Prime Minister John Howard’s controversial claim that gender equality was unlikely in federal parliament.

“Despite the announcement I’m making, I think that is absolute rubbish… I’d hate for my legacy to be sending a message that you can’t be a woman and go into federal parliament,” she told reporters.

“I’ve worked alongside countless colleagues who are great parents and great members of parliament… ultimately this is about what works for me. It’s not a reflection on the way it has to be for all women and all parents.”

Labor leader Bill Shorten suggested he hoped SA Labor would anoint a woman to replace Ellis – a likely eventuality given the party’s gender quota in preselections.

“I don’t think you’ll replace Kate Ellis [but] I do hope the Labor Party in SA finds us another talented woman,” he said.

Ellis is married to News Corp columnist and former Daily Telegraph and Sunday Mail editor David Penberthy, who co-hosts the breakfast shift on FIVEaa. Penberthy has older children from a previous marriage.

A 39-year-old former minister and member of Labor’s right faction, Ellis was first elected in 2004 and retained a margin above four per cent at the last election.

However, she said, “when I think about having to regularly miss things like [my son’s] first day at school, his presentations at school assembly, a first sporting match or even just being there for him when he is sick and wants his mum, I know that it would make me absolutely miserable”.

“To say that I love my job is an understatement [but] I have made the decision that I will not stand as a candidate at the next federal election.

“This was a particularly hard decision for me because I believe that Bill Shorten and Labor can and should win the next election… I would love to be able to play a key role in a federal government focussed on the needs of the Australian public and working to improve our amazing country.

“Ultimately, we all have to make choices though and I am so grateful that I’ve had the chance to work in such an amazing job for as long as I have.”

Ellis will step down from the shadow ministry, with the timing yet to be determined.

Shorten is weighing up whether to undertake a broader reshuffle or make a simple replacement.

Victorian MP Clare O’Neil is considered a strong chance of entering the shadow cabinet.

– with AAP

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