Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has channelled Taylor Swift and given the Coalition Ministry a real shake up, going further than pundits had expected. It’s not a reshuffle that merely rewards his backers, nor one that punishes Abbott loyalists. Rather, it’s a reshuffle that focuses on delivering the Prime Minister’s vision – a vision for renewal, agility and innovation.
The Prime Minister has rewarded the next generation and the strong performers while relegating others to the bleachers. The appointment of Scott Morrison to Treasurer came as no surprise and he will add strong communication credentials to the Government’s economic portfolio, working in partnership with Senator Mathias Cormann, who with his safe-pair-of-hands, continues as Minister for Finance.
While Christopher Pyne’s move from Higher Education was expected, Defence was not the destination but Industry, Innovation and Science. As such, the future of the Government’s higher education reform agenda is unclear, but with the passing of the baton to South Australian Senator Simon Birmingham comes responsibility for the entire education portfolio from early childhood to higher education, and proven capability.
There will be some consistency within the Cabinet. Andrew Robb has kept the trade portfolio – a change in captain would almost certainly have scuttled the Coalition’s chance of passing the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement through the Parliament by the year’s end. Sussan Ley will continue in Health, assisted by Senator Fiona Nash (focusing on her passion of Rural Health) and known health advocate-Ken Wyatt. Michael Keenan will stay on as Justice Minister, George Brandis as Attorney-General, and to some surprise Peter Dutton holds onto Immigration and Border Protection.
Nonetheless, it is the promotions and the dismissals that will gain the most attention over the coming days. This is a Ministry where the next generation, who have been less than patient at times on the backbench have been rewarded for their performances, capability and enthusiasm.
The standouts are Marise Payne as Minister for Defence and Christian Porter who will oversee Social Services. It is a credit to Payne and the revolution within the armed services that she will become the first woman to oversee the Defence portfolio. One only hopes Payne overcomes the often poisoned chalice career-wise that Defence represents. Josh Frydenberg has scored Resources, Energy and Northern Australia, while Mitch Fifield now takes on Turnbull’s legacy in Communications (with the addition of Arts after the Prime Minister appears to have “caved” into pressure from the arts community). Kelly O’Dwyer is rewarded with Small Business and Assistant Treasurer and will be the only female in Cabinet’s Expenditure Review Committee. Western Australia Senator Michaelia Cash moves into Cabinet, with responsibilities for Employment, Women and assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service.
Across the board this is a well-balanced and capable Ministry; one that combines old-hands with newcomers, all with ability and potential. As he became Australia’s 29th Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull chose the words “Agile. Innovative. Creative” as the fundamentals that will define and underpin the nation’s future. That vision is displayed in the re-emphasis added to a number of portfolios including innovation and science, northern Australia, international education, productivity, cities and built environment. Small changes, but noticeable and instructive.
This is a Ministry that provides insights into what a Turnbull Government wants to achieve, the way it will govern, and opens the door for new policies to be brought forward for the electorates’ consideration. However, it’s a Ministry that will take some time to settle in. The size of the changes will result in substantial modifications to the public service and to staffing arrangements within political offices. Changes in key portfolios such as health, education, employment and
industry raises complex questions about where the lines of responsibility fall that only time, and further discussions, will clarify. This all begins tomorrow as the Ministry is sworn in and Cabinet meets for the first time.
Luckily for the Prime Minister and his Ministry, there are three weeks before Parliament returns to get down to business. This also provides time for those left on the cutting room floor – Ian Macfarlane, Bruce Billson, Kevin Andrews, Eric Abetz, Michael Ronaldson and of course Tony Abbott – to ponder their futures. It’s likely that more will join former-Treasurer, Joe Hockey and look to take their leave from Canberra’s hallowed halls.
Written by Michael Hartmann, Director Government Relations – Parker & Partners