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Piccolo resigns from cabinet

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Self-described “accidental minister” Tony Piccolo has resigned from Jay Weatherill’s cabinet, paving the way for the elevation of right-faction powerbroker Peter Malinauskas, InDaily can reveal.

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Speaking exclusively to InDaily, Piccolo revealed he approached the Premier after yesterday’s cabinet meeting to tell him he would vacate his ministry.

“Over the Christmas/New Year break I’ve had the chance to think about how I get balance in my life, not only in terms of my family but my electorate,” he said.

“That’s getting increasingly more difficult to do, being a cabinet minister and a good local member [so] I’ve indicated to the Premier I’d be willing to leave cabinet, to give someone else a chance.”

He has lately held the Disabilities, Police, Correctional Services, Emergency Services and Road Safety portfolios.

As InDaily revealed last year, the likely inclusion of Malinauskas in a reshuffle due before parliament resumes next month made Piccolo’s demotion almost inevitable, given Labor’s need to balance both factional and gender quotas on the frontbench.

However, he insists “nobody’s spoken to me before today”.

“I took the initiative,” he said.

“I’d rather have a clean break and do it properly and give the Government the best chance to be re-elected.”

Piccolo entered the ministry three years ago next week, a beneficiary of a factional deal that saw him jump from the Labor Left to the dominant Right.

“The reality is I’m in some ways an accidental minister… there’s more truth to that than people knew,” he conceded.

“I’ve enjoyed my three years immensely [but] I won’t say it’s been easy every day.”

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Piccolo is congratulated by the Premier on his swearing-in. Photo: Nat Rogers, InDaily.

Piccolo has endured intense media scrutiny over that time, most recently over the Government’s response to the Pinery bushfire.

But the Italian immigrant, who arrived in Australia from Naples in 1963 with his parents Raffaele and Maria, and sister Antonietta – then unable to speak a word of English – says he “likes to put things in context”.

“If someone told my late father when he came to SA in 1963 – when I was just three years old – that I would be a cabinet minister, he wouldn’t know what they were talking about,” he said.

“I’m very happy and content to have been given the honour and privilege to be a cabinet minister… I’ve had an interest in politics for some time, and to be given the opportunity to be a minister for three years is something that can never be taken away from me.

“I’d rather have three years as a minister than 16 years in Opposition.”

His resignation makes the ascension of Malinauskas, who last month replaced the disgraced Bernie Finnigan in the Upper House, a fait accompli.

But it’s understood the impending reshuffle will involve a broader shake-up, with Labor’s Upper House Leader Gail Gago set to leave the ministry. A left-winger, she will be replaced by either the Left’s Katrine Hildyard or the Right’s Leesa Vlahos, with the dominant faction pushing for the cabinet mix to reflect its superior numbers.

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Gail Gago is currently on leave, but is expected to leave the cabinet ahead of a reshuffle. Photo: Nat Rogers, InDaily

Nonetheless, Piccolo insists his replacement “will be up to the Premier to decide”.

“Whoever the Premier chooses, I’ll be happy [but] if it turns out to be Peter I can assure you he is an outstanding candidate,” he said.

“I’ve made it very clear to the Premier the renewal process has to be as smooth as possible for both the state and the Government, and I wouldn’t like to do anything which would hinder that smooth transition.”

The outgoing minister thanked his staff, agencies and family, saying “it’s been a challenging time, coming home always later than I expected”.

“Obviously as a minister, there’s always been trade-offs between my ministry and looking after my seat, so I want to connect more strongly again with my electorate.”

He said he “very much” intends to remain in parliament, and “continue to serve” his northern seat of Light, which he has held since 2006.

“It’s a marginal seat, so I’m keen to hold onto it for the Government – the last thing I want is a Marshall Liberal Government – and hopefully I’ll be successful again,” he said.

Despite a raft of controversies, he listed his ministerial achievements as parole reform, clamping down on disruptive tenants, formulating a new charter for the Volunteers’ sector and putting a new Disability Services Act through parliament “without amendment”.

“I’ve been able to negotiate the full (state) rollout of the National Disablity Insurance Scheme, which will be a huge benefit to South Australians living with a disability, and their families and carers,” he said.

“That’s an area I’ll take a continuing interest in, to make sure it’s rolled out and delivered in an effective manner.”

He’s also instituted a new Firearms Act, claiming: “I’ve had more success than the American president [on gun control].”

“I’ve endeavoured to make a fairer society through the Disability Services Act and the NDIS, and to make a safer community through firearms legislation and also road safety reforms, working with local government to make sure people get home safe,” he said.

“There’s never been a dull moment… I can leave the cabinet knowing I’ve done the best I can, and I can look back in 20-30 years time and say ‘I was part of that’.”

Piccolo has a saying, which he usually applies to his Disabilities portfolio, that “everyone has a right to live in dignity and be treated with dignity”.

“That’s a simple message, but quite a powerful message,” he reflected.

“The fact I’ve been given the opportunity to make my decision, I think, reflects that… and that’s why I’ve done it this way.”

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