BENALLA MP Bill Sykes will retire at the Victorian election in November, saying it is time for young blood to take the reins.
Dr Sykes’ announcement yesterday finally put to rest the rumours of his impending retirement, which had been circulating since October, when the redrawing of the electorate boundaries dismantled Benalla and divided it into four other seats.
The MP of 11 years said he had “a lot of unfinished business”, but it was the right time for him to step down.
Dr Sykes vowed to “work his butt off” to see the Nationals retain the new seat of Euroa, which will take in most of his old electorate.
“I’m keen to get a younger person to come into the job and inject some youthful enthusiasm,” he said.
“At this stage, membership of most political parties is ageing so we need to stimulate greater interest among the younger generations.”
Dr Sykes said although it was up to the Nationals party membership to choose candidates, he knew of at least two members who intended to contest preselection for Euroa, with nominations to open next week.
He said Benalla had been “hung, drawn and quartered” in the redistribution, but insisted it had not played a part in his decision.
“The boundary changes haven’t done the Nats any favours whatsoever — we’ve lost one seat and Euroa is going to be difficult to win,” he said.
“But it firms up my resolve to give everything to retain the seat for the Nationals because I think we’re the best for the area.”
Dr Sykes said he would work closely with his counterparts in Benambra and the newly created Ovens Valley (formerly Murray Valley) as they took over parts of Benalla, and he would help his party’s candidate to win Euroa.
Among the goals he wants to achieve before he leaves office are securing funding for the Benalla education regeneration project, meeting aged care and hospital upgrade needs and finishing the Bright cycle rail trail.
Dr Sykes said highlights of his career included rallying against the Bracks government’s north-south water pipeline during the “Plug the Pipe” campaign, delivering “sizeable projects” to almost every community in the electorate from the regional growth fund, working with the community, and working alongside Nationals leader Peter Ryan.
Mr Ryan’s own election intentions have been queried amid rumours he is also considering retirement, but Dr Sykes yesterday took the opportunity to throw his support behind the Nationals leader.
“He is a man of unquestioned integrity, a man with enormous commitment to country Victoria, and an amazing work ethic,” Dr Sykes said.
“I would very much like to see him continue as leader of the party.”
Dr Sykes, 65, who is the father of three adult children, said politics had been “all-consuming” for him and although he enjoyed serving the electorate, it was time to put his family first.
“During the past 11 years I have not spent sufficient time with family and friends,” he said.
“When you get down to the nitty gritty, it’s things like family and friends that is at the top of my list of what’s important in life.
“I’ve got five grandchildren now and I want to be a better grandfather than father.”