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Conroy was Conroy to the end

AAP logoAAP 16/09/2016 Richard Lawson

Stephen Conroy was, well, Stephen Conroy to the last.

Instead of informing his colleagues or even telling parliament directly, the sometimes unorthodox Labor senator used an obscure process to camouflage the announcement he's retiring from politics.

Just before 9pm on Thursday - in the middle of a debate about the government's budget savings omnibus bill - the senator rose to praise Finance Minister Mathias Corman.

That rare tribute to a political opponent should have been a portent.

"As it is very late, I seek leave to table the rest of my contribution so we can move on," he told parliament.

And in that document - left to Senate officials to file away - was his valedictory, a speech MPs and senators usually make to parliament in person as they depart.

"You should always go out on top," Senator Conroy wrote.

"This week as captain of the parliamentary soccer team I scored a hat trick. It must be time to say farewell."

Regarded as one of Labor's most influential powerbrokers, especially in his home state of Victoria, Senator Conroy, 53, was first elected to parliament in 1996.

Another of those powerbrokers, former Victorian senator Robert Ray , once labelled him a "factional dalek".

Clearly playing politics wasn't enough, two months after winning another six-year term in the upper house.

"I will miss my friends and colleagues terribly - our Saturday morning chats, our Sunday night plane trips, our Wednesday night dinners," the outgoing senator said.

"All made the burden of being away from our families a little more bearable.

"When you resent being in Canberra because you are missing your daughter's soccer training it is time to retire from the federal parliament."

On the way out, Senator Conroy paid tribute to Labor leader Bill Shorten.

"Bill has shown what I have always known - he is a resilient, smart, warm man of the people and for the people. He is Australia's prime minister in waiting."

The senator also paid tribute to a sometime factional enemy, Kim Carr, describing him as "much maligned, a passionate advocate for unfashionable economic policies but a Labor warrior".

Senator Conroy nominated his work as communications minister on the national broadband network as his greatest contribution.

There was nothing more fulfilling and no greater privilege than to be in government and conceive, create and implement a strategy to deliver the economic and social opportunities that technology brings, he said.

Frontbench colleague Richard Marles, who counts the senator as his closest friend in politics, was not totally surprised by the manner of the announcement.

"Stephen Conroy has always done things in his own way," he said.

Another senior Labor figure Anthony Albanese, who spoke to his friend on Friday morning, insisted the decision had nothing to do with bad blood inside the party.

"Absolutely, absolutely. This is a personal decision for Stephen Conroy, as much as it might cause you people a little bit of pain, we're people," he told reporters in Canberra.

A flummoxed Tanya Plibersek, standing in for Mr Shorten while he is attending a conference in Canada, knew nothing about the Conroy announcement.

But there are suggestions her leader knew in advance, but kept mum.

That could make for an interesting long-distance phone call.

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