New chapter for Page
BALLINA MP Don Page asked for a moment to compose himself before officially announcing his retirement from politics yesterday.
Clearly emotional in front of media that had gathered in Byron Bay for the announcement, Mr Page, 62, said his 26-year political career would end in March 2015 when he would not be contesting the seat of Ballina, but the changes would begin immediately as he stepped down from the Cabinet position of Minister for Local Government.
Mr Page's announcement came just two hours ahead of a full Cabinet reshuffle announcement at Parliament House following the resignation of NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell last week.
The decision to retire had been looming, Mr Page said, but had been brought forward by Mr O'Farrell's departure.
"I advised Nationals leader Andrew Stoner of my intention to retire next year so he could take that into consideration in selecting his ministerial team for the future," Mr Page said.
Accompanied by his wife, Liz, Mr Page fought back tears yesterday as he broke the news.
"When you've been in this job for 26 years, three as minister, these changes do bring forth emotional reactions," he said.
Public life is "a tough game," he said.
"It's like living in a war zone a lot of the time. But also very rewarding.
"I've enjoyed every minute of it, but I have decided it's time to move on."
Mr Page said he was proud to have delivered the upgrade of the Pacific Highway and would continue to work for a new Byron Bay Hospital and a bypass for the town while he was still in office.
He acknowledged CSG mining had been the most difficult issue he had dealt with in his political career.
"It's been tough," he said.
"When we came to government we had 25% of the state covered with CSG exploration licenses and no rules attached to them.
"I am proud that our government put into place a rigorous regime to make sure that no matter what happened we would be protecting our land and water."
Mr Page was due to fly to Sydney yesterday, where he would be "clearing out his desk" as well as spending time with his family.
He said it was unlikely one of his children would become the sixth generation of Pages to enter public life.
"I suspect they won't go into politics, and I won't be pushing them to go that way."
CSG an issue for seat
DON Page's departure from politics will "open up the doors" to the Greens and independents at the next state election says a local political commentator.
Dr Ros Irwin, who has lectured in political science at Southern Cross University, said the issue of CSG mining in the Northern Rivers had alienated "rusted-on" National Party voters and would result in new contenders at the 2015 elections.
"Gas has been putting a lot of pressure on the Nats," she said. "It will be an interesting election; I think unless the Nationals do something to address the community's concerns over CSG, the Greens and independents will attract a substantial vote.
"There is a strong possibility that Don Page may have lost his seat over CSG in 2015."
Yesterday Paul Toole was announced as the new Minister for Local Government, and Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner as Minister for the North Coast.
What they said:
Catherine Cusack, Liberal MLC : "Don Page has given 26 years of dedicated service to the community he loves. Don is popular and respected across the political spectrum because he puts his community first."
"His many local Liberal supporters thank him for being a strong Coalitionist, for respecting our views and role on the NSW Coast, and his ethical and effective representation."
"Ballina electorate ranges from hardcore conservationists in Byron to traditional cane farmers along the Richmond River."
"He accords every single one of his constituents respect and fairness and has been a relentless champion for the North Coast - especially infrastructure."
"Although he comes from a distinguished family he has always given humble service and is a true champion of constituents. He can't be replaced but his high standards will be a worthy beacon for his successor."
Thomas George, Lismore MP: "I'm saddened by the news. Don has been a great support to me and a mentor since I entered parliament. He has always been available for advice. He's been a true friend."
"When he said he was announcing his retirement I told him he could be very proud of what he has achieved for Ballina as local government minister and the first minister for the North Coast."
"The community can look back with pride on how they have been served by a man with integrity. He has been a Nationals stalwart and he has always offered the party guidance and support."
"The Nationals inherited CSG exploration licences handed out by the previous Labor government and it's been up to us to regulate the industry to protect our land and water and we acknowledge there is more work to do."
David Wright, Ballina Mayor: "It is a shock. You could always talk to Don, he was a friend."
"They will be hard shoes to fill and he will be sorely missed."
"He could have stayed on as local government minister for another nine months, but he has done the honourable thing; that's the sort of person he is."
"Every election you assume Don will get in, now it throws it wide open."
"Don Page has been our direct link to ministers and he is a very personable man who has been dedicated to the people of Ballina.
"He's a friend rather than a politician and very well respected as a hard worker.
"We have been very lucky in this electorate and I just hope whoever follows in his footsteps will be even half as dedicated to Ballina as Don has been."