SYDNEY -- In one the worst kept secrets of post-Abbott politics, the federal Director of the Liberal Party, Brian Loughnane, is stepping down from the role.
The successful conservative strategist, described by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull today as an “outstanding Federal Director”, has announced he intends to resign by early next year.
It is understood he told Turnbull on Wednesday and informed the Party’s Federal Executive on Thursday.
He cited “recent changes in the Parliamentary leadership” as one of the reasons for the move, but indicated he has been thinking about stepping down for some time.
He thanked all four Party leaders he has worked with, including Turnbull, as well as his wife Peta Credlin, the controversial Chief of Staff to Tony Abbott, with whom he was accused of having a conflict of interest with.
“I am deeply grateful for the incredible support I have had from my family and friends, particularly my wife Peta, during my years in the role,” he said in a statement.
“It would have been impossible to serve for so long without it."
The power couple were criticised in February by the Liberal Party's then treasurer Phil Higginson, who said their positions were untenable and questioned Loughnane’s handling of finances.
Loughnane’s move comes less than a month after the coup that ousted Abbott and installed Turnbull and just under a year before the next expected federal election.
Higginson on Thursday claimed vindication over the resignation.
Despite many reports that Loughnane and Turnbull did not get on, the Prime Minister paid tribute to the loyal Liberal Party man.
“Brian Loughnane has been an outstanding Federal Director,” he said in a statement.
“His campaign skills, astute political advice, efficient party management and wise counsel have been appreciated by every Leader he has served, including me.”
“Lucy and I wish Brian and his wife Peta Credlin every success in their future endeavours.”
Loughnane said he was announcing the move now so the Party had enough time to appoint a successor and for him to take part in a handover.
It’s widely expected he’ll be replaced by the NSW Party Director known as John Howard’s “head kicker”, Liberal veteran Tony Nutt.
Loughnane has been the Federal Director of the Liberal Party since 2003.
He has led four federal election campaigns for the Coalition, winning two, including overthrowing the Rudd Labor Government in 2013.
“I have been privileged to be Campaign Director for the Coalition for four Federal elections - twice the number anyone (Liberal or Labor, State or Federal) for over thirty years,” he said.
“My time as Federal Director has coincided with one of the most remarkable periods in Australian history and I am particularly proud of the strength of our primary vote over those elections - the result of the careful application of a considered strategy.”
Loughnane has thanked all four Party leaders he has worked with, Howard, Brendan Nelson, Turnbull and Abbott.
“Each has contributed much to our Party and our country and I am grateful for their support and friendship,” he said.
He said he would be returning to the business sector and will remain a grass roots member of the Liberal Party.
Howard has described Loughnane as a loyal friend and has stated his campaign advice was always "valuable and constructive".
"Brian Loughnane has been a wonderful servant of the Liberal Party," he said.
"He always behaved in a professional manner, fully understanding the respective roles of the Parliamentary Party and the Party organisation.
"(Loughnane) departs at a time of his own choosing, with the Coalition Government in a strong position federally with every prospect of success at the 2016 election."