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Quartet of ministers call time ahead of November election

Stepping down: Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley at GV Health earlier this month. Photo by Rechelle Zammit

Four senior Victorian Government ministers, including the deputy premier and the health, water and sport ministers, stepped down on Friday morning.

Water Minister Lisa Neville, Deputy Premier and Education Minster James Merlino, Health Minister Martin Foley and Tourism, Sport and Major Events Minister Martin Pakula will all step away from politics in November.

They will serve in the ministry until Premier Daniel Andrews announces a new cabinet.

Ms Neville, who has won supporters in the Goulburn Valley for her work protecting irrigators, said she had made “one of the hardest decisions I have had to make”.

Ms Neville had a health scare last year and said after consulting family, friends and doctors she decided to step away.

Big day: Education Minister James Merlino at the opening of the Greater Shepparton Secondary College with Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed. Photo by Rodney Braithwaite

“During the eight years since being named water minister, with the support of the premier, I have transformed the water sector, with better and diverse leadership across the entire sector,” she said.

“The water grid has been expanded, there is far greater water security for Melbourne, and we are well positioned for the challenges of the future.

“For the first time, Traditional Owners have had water returned to them, and we’ve met our Murray-Darling Basin environmental obligations while at the same time locking in the future prosperity of northern Victorian irrigation communities.”

Mr Merlino will stand down from the education portfolio and not contest the next election in November.

He was one of the driving forces behind the Greater Shepparton Secondary College alongside Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed, and attended the official opening earlier this year.

Achievements: Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville in the Goulburn Valley several years ago. Photo by Julie Mercer

“Renewal is critical for any government — fresh ideas and new energy,” Mr Merlino said.

“As hard as this is, I believe in my heart that renewal, new cabinet ministers around the table, is the best thing for the government and our state.”

Mr Foley will also stand down, relinquishing the health portfolio after a gruelling time during the pandemic.

“The past two years have been a tough time for all Victorians,” Mr Foley said.

“Many of us have come to reflect on what we aspire to achieve. I am no different.

“I am looking forward to contributing to a better, fairer, sustainable Victoria in a different capacity. One that allows me more time to focus on my family and wellbeing and different interests.”

Mr Pakula will also step aside, saying he was looking after his own wellbeing in stepping aside after 16 years in politics.

Premier Daniel Andrews paid tribute to his team and Mr Merlino in particular.

“While our government is often referred to as the Andrews Labor Government, nothing we’ve achieved in infrastructure, in health and education, in equality, in jobs and skills, in any area, would have been possible without the hard work, determination and leadership of the best deputy any premier could ever wish for,” he said.