Richard Di Natale has quit the leadership of the Greens, telling his party room on Monday he will also leave the Senate.
Citing in particular family reasons for his shock departure, Di Natale said: “It’s a tough and demanding job and my boys are nine and 11, and I want to be present in their lives. My wife has been a huge support for me in my career and I want to be able to support her in her career.”
He also said he’d had major surgery at the end of last year which “took a bit out of me”.
The shock resignation comes as former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce announced he would challenge Nationals leader Michael McCormack if there was a move for a leadership spill at Tuesday’s party meeting.
The Greens will elect their new leader on Tuesday morning. The party’s sole lower house member, Adam Bandt, immediately announced he would stand.
Di Natale was elected to the Senate at the 2010 election and became leader in 2015 after Christine Milne quit. He was hailed as likely to broaden the appeal of the party, potentially picking up more centrist voters and expanding its electoral footprint. That promise has not materialised.
The party maintained its Senate representation of nine in last year’s election, as well as holding Bandt’s seat of Melbourne.
Di Natale said he left the party in good shape, with its second best result at last year’s election. “If we just repeat that result we will elect three new senators and have a shot at the balance of power. I think we’ll do better than that,” he said.
He knew his decision would shock members and supporters but the time was right – for him and for the Greens. “We are bigger than one person.” He did not know what would come next for him, but he would remain involved in Green issues.
He highlighted the Greens’ role in elevating the climate debate. “We Greens put climate action on the agenda at the last election and that was just the beginning. Every election from now on will have the climate emergency front and centre.”
He believed former leaders should not hang around in parliament. He would resign from the Senate when his replacement was chosen. He anticipated that would be about mid-year.
The Nationals are also dealing with leadership changes. Barnaby Joyce, who resigned the party’s leadership amid a furore over his personal life in early 2018 and has long wanted to reclaim the post, told Seven: “If there is a spill then I will put my hand up.” He noted he had always said that if there was a vacancy for the leadership he would stand.
Authors: Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra