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Grant Robertson, The Consummate Political Support Partner

Grant Robertson says he has given "every single inch of myself to the jobs I've had in Parliament". Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Analysis - Grant Robertson has made a political career out of being the consummate support partner.

First as advisor to former prime minister Helen Clark, then as deputy to Jacinda Ardern, and most recently as trusted friend and confidante to Chris Hipkins.

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Both Robertson and Hipkins arrived at their respective press conferences on Tuesday with red and puffy eyes - Robertson because of the difficulty in telling Hipkins he was leaving, and Hipkins clearly upset by the news.

With a decimated caucus and the new realities of being in opposition, Labour could be forgiven for wondering what they will do without their former finance minister, even though it's been coming for quite some time.

Robertson claims "politics is much bigger than any one person and nobody is indispensable" but if any Labour MP were asked to name the one colleague they would struggle to do without, it's Robertson that would spring to mind.

After 15 years in Parliament Robertson is calling time to return to his home of Dunedin to be the Vice Chancellor at Otago University.

His past six years were in government and much of that was marred by Covid-19.

Robertson has said before that he definitely didn't get into politics to lead the country through a global pandemic, and while he didn't sign up for that it was the job he and others got handed.

That pandemic and some of the decisions made during it led to Parliament's grounds being occupied for three weeks by protesters.

It finished with the lawn on fire, pieces of paving stone being thrown at police and MPs, including Robertson, wandering around the precinct speechless.

The then-Wellington Central MP described it as his "hardest and toughest time in politics" and that's coming from someone who spent nine years in opposition.

Stepping down from his seat ahead of the October election was a difficult process for Robertson and the beginning of the end of his political career.

In doing so it allowed him to leave politics without prompting a by-election, but he hadn't quite prepared himself for Labour losing the seat to the Greens.

He's already reflected that packing up his electorate office was more difficult than moving out of the Beehive.

Alongside that he has also spoken of the sadness of seeing parts of the government programme he and his colleagues worked so hard on get ripped up and repealed by the new coalition.

Robertson put his hand up twice for the Labour Party leadership and was unsuccessful on both occasions.

At that point he put the top job out of his mind and leaves Parliament believing one of his biggest achievements was the support role he played to Ardern.

Even in 2008 before either were MPs Robertson was making room for her.

At the Labour Party list rankings ahead of the campaign Robertson insisted Ardern be placed higher than him because he knew he would win his seat and she wouldn't.

Robertson now leaves Parliament after making a commitment to Hipkins to stick around long enough to make sure his colleagues are ready for what comes next.

Having given what he describes as "every single inch of myself to the jobs I've had in Parliament" Robertson says he leaves politics telling people the job is worth it "but I also put a health warning with it".

"It's not the role I came into in 2008, and it's not the role I observed when I came to work here in 2001."

But despite it being more hostile and toxic Robertson says "it still matters what happens in this place".

He leaves in a month's time with a belief "the decisions that are made here affect everybody's life every day".

For that reason, he says, good people need to keep putting their hand up.

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