A group of senior Victorian ministers – including the deputy premier, James Merlino – is set to retire, forcing a major cabinet reshuffle ahead of the November state election.
Several sources have confirmed to Guardian Australia that Merlino, the health minister, Martin Foley, the police minister, Lisa Neville, and the minister for tourism, sport, and major events, Martin Pakula, are expected to announce their retirements as soon as Friday.
Guardian Australia has attempted to contact all four ministers, while premier Daniel Andrews’ office refused to comment.
It comes after several Labor MPs, including former attorney general Jill Hennessy – once considered a possible successor to Andrews – and the planning minister, Richard Wynne, announced they would be retiring at the election last year.
Merlino, who is also the minister for education and mental health, and Neville have been in parliament for 20 years, with the latter forced to take six months’ leave last year to recover from surgery for Crohn’s disease.
Pakula has served for 16 years, and while his lower house seat of Keysborough was recently abolished as part of an electoral redistribution, he was expected to move to the upper house.
Foley, who took over from Jenny Mikakos as health minister after her resignation in September 2020, has served 15 years.
During question time in parliament on Thursday, the final sitting day before the mid-winter break, all four ministers gave ministerial statements, reflecting on their time in their respective portfolios.
“We are in the position of being one of the nation’s leading areas of public health achievements through this global pandemic through the efforts of our nurses, doctors, ambos, allied health professionals, and ward clerks,” Foley said.
“That is because this side of the house has spent every day over the past seven-and-a-half years building that relationship and building that workforce.”
Neville paid tribute to Victoria Police for their work during the past two years supporting the health response to the pandemic.
“We have also during this time been reminded, unfortunately, of how dangerous their jobs are, with five police officers’ lives lost in the line of duty since 2020,” she said.
“These sacrifices and service must be acknowledged and respected. But they also must be met by more than words; they must be met with actions. That is why this government has always backed in police with the resources, the equipment, and the new laws that keep Victorians safe.”
Pakula said the state had begun to “hum again” after several Covid-19 lockdowns.
“It is a beautiful thing to see, and we cannot thank our workers more than enough for doing their bit,” he said.
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Merlino spoke of the government’s mental health investment in schools and thanked teachers for their “selflessness, professionalism, and dedication over the past two-and-a-half years”.
“Enjoy the term break; you have earned it,” he said.
It is believed the four MPs will remain in parliament until the election on 26 November. Still, their cabinet positions will be filled in the coming weeks. Wynne is also expected to step down.
He told reporters outside parliament it was an “opportunity for renewal” of the government, which has been in power since 2014.
“We have a very good crop of ministers going forward, and I look forward to this rejuvenation of cabinet,” Wynne said.
“James [Merlino] has been a wonderful friend and minister. Truly the work he has done in education has been quite extraordinary … he has a wonderful legacy to celebrate.”
Under Labor’s factional rules, the deputy premier needs to come from a different faction to the premier, who is of the socialist left. It is also expected the retiring MPs will be replaced in the cabinet by members of their section.
Several sources said transport minister, Ben Carroll, was a frontrunner for the deputy position, while members of the right factions – speaker Colin Brooks and MPs Lizzie Blandthorn, Steve Dimopolous, and Nick Staikos – were vying to replace Merlino, Neville, and Pakula.
On the left, Sonya Kilkenny and Harriet Shing have put their hands up to replace Foley and Wynne.
Some sources suggested the premier could pick transport infrastructure minister Jacinta Allan from the left as a deputy in the lead-up to the election, given her experience. However, this could lead to backlash from the right.