Gillard’s Gang of Many

Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced her Cabinet yesterday. As expected, Kevin Rudd is the new Foreign Minister, while Stephen Smith has moved to Defence. Although no one should have been surprised by this, the Opposition immediately went on the attack. Deputy Opposition Leader and putative Foreign Affairs Shadow Julie Bishop fronted the media with a cheerfully nasty smile that clashed oddly with her words. Australia’s ‘worst diplomat’ was in charge of our relations with the rest of the world, she warned, an arrangement likely to cause untold damage to our international reputation. The smile made her look almost gleeful about the prospect.

Some portfolios were left untouched, or received extra responsibilities. Wayne Swan is Treasurer and Deputy PM; Nicola Roxon is Minister for Health; Anthony Albanese holds Transport and Infrastructure, as well as being Leader of the House; and Jenny Macklin remains in Families, Housing, Community Services & Indigenous Affairs. Robert McLelland is still Attorney-General, and Martin Ferguson stays with Mining, Resources and Tourism.

In a blow that had ‘internet nerds sobbing into their keyboards’ (to quote @mikestuchbery), Stephen Conroy remains responsible for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy. He also picked up an additional responsibility; Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity. This, apparently, means his job now includes reassuring the PM that the NBN won’t run massively over budget.

The rest of the Cabinet, though, is a different story.

Penny Wong apparently requested a move out of the Climate Change portfolio. Her reasons for doing so are unknown, but that hasn’t stopped speculation. Whatever the case, she is now the new Minister for Finance. She replaces Lindsay Tanner in one of the four senior roles in Cabinet. Disgustingly, this appointment has already attracted condemnation from members of the public who take issue with her sexuality. Of course, these people cannot say exactly how it might interfere with her ability to do her job – they conveniently ignore her demonstrated intelligence and competence in both the private and government sectors.

Climate Change and Energy Efficiency is the responsibility of Greg Combet. The appointment of the former ACTU Secretary and Parliamentary troubleshooter, who stepped in to clean up after the failed home insulation scheme, has some speculating that his task here may be of a similar nature. Given that getting any form of carbon price legislation through is likely to be a monumental task, however, I suspect that it might be more to do with recognising the need for a skilled negotiator.

Simon Crean now holds a newly-created portfolio, Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government. This is clearly a nod to the concerns of the Independents. He’s also been made responsible for the Arts. The two sit oddly together; we can only hope that this won’t mean a sudden increase in bush ballads.

Chris Evans is the Minister for Jobs, Skills & Workplace Relations. Gillard clarified this morning on the ABC’s Insiders program that this also included undergraduate higher education. Kim Carr, meanwhile, holds Innovation, Industry & Science, which includes postgraduate and research-based higher education. This preserves the split first instituted by Rudd’s government, but may well prove to be a bureaucratic nightmare.

The rest of the education sector was, surprisingly, handed over to Peter Garrett. In a public show of confidence in the former Environment Minister, Gillard named him Minister for Schools, Early Childhood and Youth.

Garrett’s former portfolio is rolled into a new ‘super-Ministry’. Tony Burke is now the Minister for Sustainable Population, Communities, Environment & Water.

Craig Emerson has been promoted to Trade, and Immigration (likely to be a portfolio fraught with controversy) handed over to Chris Bowen. Finally, Joe Ludwig is Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

In the Junior Ministry, the following appointments were made:

Tanya Plibersek – Human Services and Social Inclusion (picking up one of Gillard’s former responsibilities, but losing Housing)

Brendan O’Connor – Home Affairs, Justice, Privacy and Freedom Of Information

Kate Ellis – Employment Participation, Childcare, and the Status of Women

Nick Sherry – Small Business, and Assistant to Minister for Tourism

Warren Snowdon – Veterans’ Affairs, Defence Science and Personnel

Mark Butler – Mental Health and Ageing

Gary Gray – Special Minister of State

Jason Clare – Defence Materiel

Any Cabinet position for Mark Arbib or Bill Shorten, widely touted as the so-called ‘faceless men’ responsible for orchestrating the challenge against Rudd, was always going to draw criticism. Even if Gillard had banished them both to the back bench, it would have drawn comment. As it is, Shorten is now the Assistant Treasurer, and Arbib is Minister for Indigenous Employment and Economic Development, Sport and Social Housing and Homelessness.

A full list including Parliamentary Secretaries, with links to the individual members’ websites, is available at The Notion Factory.

All in all, this Cabinet is a very strange mix. Education is diffused over three separate Ministries, while Arts has been bizarrely paired with Regional Australia. There is no longer a separate Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities; presumably Bill Shorten’s former purview is re-absorbed into the wider Ministry of Health. Tony Burke’s ‘super-portfolio’ straddles everything from Infrastructure to Agriculture to Transport, and seems likely to be more of a ‘coordinating Ministry’ than anything else.

It’s difficult to discern Labor’s thinking here. Gillard made a point of touting the ‘co-operative’ approach all through negotiations with the Independents, and perhaps that feeds into some of the decisions. Certainly, to get much of Labor’s proposed policy agenda worked up into legislation, multiple areas of responsibility will need to be canvassed. It’s debatable, though, whether this diffuse approach will foster that process, or actually inhibit it.

Tony Abbott will name his Shadow Cabinet next week. Matching up talents against Labor’s choices is likely to be a task of some magnitude, and the results will be nothing if not interesting.


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