The people of the Murray electorate, many of them now life-long friends, will be what Adrian Piccoli will miss most about politics.
Last week Mr Piccoli confirmed he would retire as the state Member for Murray, and his last official day on the job will be this Friday.
It ends an almost 20-year career as a politician.
While he said he has enjoyed representing the interests of the people in his community, Mr Piccoli’s new role as director of a newly created institute for education with the University of NSW will allow him to concentrate on his passion for education and spend more time with his family.
‘‘One of my greatest achievements during my time in government has been to marry my wife Sonia, and welcome two wonderful children — Finn, 9, and Jasper, 6.
‘‘They have only ever known me as a parliamentarian and being away from home so often.
‘‘They were a big reason why I made this decision.
‘‘As the New South Wales Minister for Education I put rural and remote education on the government agenda.
‘‘It has received more focus and money than we have ever seen, and I was also a large part of the Gonski agreement.
‘‘That has been especially good for country schools, with schools in the Deniliquin and Southern Riverina areas receiving more money than ever before.
‘‘A big part of my role with the university is on rural and remote education, so I will continue to be based in Griffith for that.
‘‘It will allow me to spend more time in schools, like I did when I was minister, speaking with teachers, principals, parents and students.
‘‘That may include some visits back to Deniliquin and the Southern Riverina.’’
Mr Piccoli was elected as The Nationals’ Member for Murrumbidgee in 1999 and has been re-elected with a majority at every election since.
He has represented the Edward River Council and surrounding areas most of that time, except for a two term stint from 2007 when this region was moved into the electorate of Murray-Darling and served by John Williams.
Another boundary redistribution then saw parts of Murrumbidgee and Murray-Darling joined to make the current seat of Murray.
‘‘One of the highlights of this job has been what I’ve been able to achieve for individuals — that’s the everyday of my job and I have had a lot of personal satisfaction in doing that.
‘‘More often than not I was able to get some wins.
‘‘On an electorate wide basis, there have been some hard battles on water, health, the red gum issue — which I have vowed to continue to help with — and native vegetation.
‘‘I would like to think I have won most of them.
‘‘I have worked every day, as hard as I can, to make sure my constituents have been heard.’’
Mr Piccoli said water is one issue that has been consistently in the spotlight since he was elected, particularly with the timing of his entry into politics.
‘‘The hardest period of my job was at the beginning, during the Millennium Drought.
‘‘It really knocked the wind out of the whole community, and we saw a lot of people leave the district.
‘‘And then there was the Murray Darling Basin Plan; between the two of them they really knocked the stuffing out of people.
‘‘I think we’ve only just started to recover from the social implications of both in the last 12 months.
‘‘Deniliquin seems to have an air of positivity again and the economy is bouncing back.’’
While proud of how hard he has fought for his constituents in the last 18 years, Mr Piccoli said he will delight in not having to go to battle every day.
‘‘The nature of combative politics can be rewarding, but it also takes a lot out of you.
‘‘I also won’t miss the travel.
‘‘The travel in the electorate was fine and often appreciated, but I will not miss having to go to Sydney.’’
Education was Mr Piccoli’s only portfolio during his time in government, but he was also elected deputy leader of The Nationals in 2009. He relinquished his leadership role voluntarily in 2016 following strong criticism against the NSW Nationals over some political issues.
Immediately before his foray into politics, Mr Piccoli was working on the family rice farm in Griffith with his father and brother.
He had previously graduated from Australian National University in Canberra with a Bachelor of Economics and Bachelor of Law, and had been working as a solicitor in Sydney and Griffith.
He said his decision to stand in the 1999 state election was as a result of his social conscience.
‘‘I always had an interest in what was happening in my community, and I wanted an outlet to express those opinions,’’ he said.