12:00AM July 5, 2018
By Greg Sheridan
A Labor lion has decided to roar no more, at least in parliament.
Michael Danby, one of Bill Shorten’s strongest supporters in the federal Labor caucus, has decided to retire from politics at the next election. Mr Danby, 63, has held the marginal seat of Melbourne Ports since 1998.
The Victorian Labor Party factional heavyweights have decided to re-endorse all sitting members and the party’s administrative committee is expected to ratify that decision next week.
Mr Danby was assured of preselection but has decided to announce his retirement early to give the Labor Party plenty of time to select a replacement.
Mr Danby supports a full democratic process of Labor Party preselection to choose his replacement in Melbourne Ports.
“Seven terms and 20 years is enough,” he said.
“This is the right time to transition to a new career in Australia or international affairs. I am looking forward to this next chapter in my life.”
Mr Danby was one of the earliest and strongest Labor backers of Mr Shorten’s leadership aspirations. He said: “Bill Shorten and I have been friends since he was 20 and we share many core values.
“I believe Bill can take the party to victory and I look forward to seeing that play out.”
Given Mr Danby’s strong personal vote, and his electorate’s high average income, Melbourne Ports will be a difficult seat for Labor to hold at the next election unless the party sweeps to government on a big swing.
Although Mr Danby was briefly parliamentary secretary for the arts under Julia Gillard, he has been most influential as a backbencher.
Along with Mark Dreyfus and Josh Frydenberg, he is one of three Jewish members of the federal parliament, and has been a strong supporter of Israel.
Last year he was criticised on many ABC programs for using $4500 from his electorate communication allowance to buy ads in The Jewish News to criticise the ABC’s coverage of Israel.
However, apart from his energetic work for his electorate, Mr Danby’s main contribution has been on international human rights issues and national security.
As a member of the treaties committee he played an important role in Labor’s decision last year to oppose ratifying an extradition treaty with Beijing. With Senate crossbench opposition and roiling dissent within the Liberal Party, the treaty ultimately failed. He has on several occasions arranged the Canberra leg of visits to Australia by the Dalai Lama, as well as the Chinese Uighur leader, Rebiya Kadeer.
Many observers believe his most influential period in public life came when he chaired the joint parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, defence and trade.
In 2009 he convened a major international conference in Melbourne on North Korean human rights. He also widely promoted Han Dong Fan, a Hong Kong-based activist who supports independent trade unionists in China.
Some observers believe Mr Danby may have been the Australian MP the Beijing government liked least.