Abbott’s Ministry – One woman, no science, 12,000 jobs

September 16, 2013

We now know the make-up of Prime Minister Elect Tony Abbott’s new Ministry – and if it’s a sign of things to come, there are some features that may well be warning signs. For the most part, Abbott made good on his promise to simply remove the word ‘Shadow’ from his front bench. There were a few surprises, however, on which I’ll elaborate below.

Cabinet

Prime Minister – Tony Abbott
Parliamentary Secretary – Josh Frydenberg
Parliamentary Secretary – Alan Tudge

Deputy Prime Minister; Infrastructure and Regional Development – Warren Truss
Assistant – Jamie Briggs

Treasurer – Joe Hockey
Assistant – Senator Arthur Sinodinos
Parliamentary Secretary – Steve Ciobo

Agriculture – Senator Barnaby Joyce
Parliamentary Secretary – Senator Richard Colbeck

Attorney-General; Arts – Senator George Brandis

Communications – Malcolm Turnbull
Parliamentary Secretary – Paul Fletcher

Defence – Senator David Johnston
Assistant – Stuart Robert
Parliamentary Secretary – Darren Chester

Education; Leader of Government Business in the House – Christopher Pyne
Assistant – Sussan Ley
Parliamentary Secretary – Senator Scott Ryan

Employment; Assisting the Prime Minister on the Public Service; Leader of the Senate – Senator Eric Abetz
Assistant – Luke Hartsuyker

Environment – Greg Hunt
Parliamentary Secretary – Senator Simon Birmingham

Finance – Senator Mathias Cormann
Parliamentary Secretary – Michael McCormack

Foreign Affairs – Julie Bishop
Parliamentary Secretary – Brett Mason

Health and Sport – Peter Dutton
Assistant – Senator Fiona Nash

Immigration and Border Protection – Scott Morrison
Assistant; Assisting the Prime Minister for Women – Michaelia Cash

Indigenous Affairs – Senator Nigel Scullion

Industry – Ian McFarlane
Parliamentary Secretary – Bob Baldwin

Small Business – Bruce Billson

Social Services – Kevin Andrews
Assistant – Senator Mitch Fifield
Parliamentary Secretary – Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells

Trade and Investment – Andrew Robb

Speaker – Bronwyn Bishop

Whip – Philip Ruddock

Outer Ministry

Assisting Ministers, plus:

Veterans Affairs; Assisting the Prime Minister on the Century of ANZAC; Special Minister for State – Senator Michael Ronaldson

Human Services – Marise Payne

Justice – Michael Keenan

The first, and most glaring, issue is the lack of women in the Cabinet. Out of 20 Ministers, there is only one, Julie Bishop, who stays with Foreign Affairs. In the Outer Ministry there are three ‘Assistant Ministers’ (positions that, under Labor, were called ‘Junior Ministries’), one Parliamentary Secretary, and one Minister – and, of course, Bronwyn Bishop is Abbott’s Speaker-designate. That’s still only 7 appointments out of 42 positions.

When it was in Opposition, the Coalition made much of Labor’s supposed betrayal of its commitment to relatively equal representation, both on its front bench and in its Caucus. Now in government, Abbott could only say he ‘wished’ there could be at least two women in his Cabinet, and mentioned his regret at losing Sophie Mirabella (who looks increasingly likely to lose her seat of Indi). He added that there were many talented women ‘knocking at the door’, but that in the end, he was faced with a wealth of talent and a dearth of positions, and reminded us that the Coalition chooses its representatives based on merit, rather than ‘quotas’ or any other system.

But how true is that? Take a look at the case of Senator Fierravanti-Wells. She was apparently talented enough to serve in Abbott’s Shadow Ministry, in the portfolios of Ageing and Mental Health. She has a strong background in law, was a Policy Advisor for the New South Wales Shadow Minister for Policy and Regional Development, and served as Senior Private Secretary to John Fahey, then NSW Premier. How is she less qualified to fulfil a Cabinet role – or even a Junior, sorry, Assistant Ministry – than, say, Luke Hartsuyker, who was never elected to state government (managing his family’s tourism business before entering federal politics, and then also serving as a Shadow Minister under Abbott)?

For that matter, how is Fierravanti-Wells less qualified to serve than Paul Fletcher, he of the ‘opt-out internet filter’ debacle just prior to the election? He kept his job as Parliamentary Secretary to Malcolm Turnbull, while Fierravanti-Wells was effectively demoted. Does that sound like a meritocracy at work?

Abbott says he’s ‘disappointed’ at the lack of women in Cabinet. This is enormously disingenuous. He is the one person responsible for choosing his Ministers, beholden to neither Caucus nor colleagues. For him to shake his head and feign regret about his own choices is inexcusable.

Oh, and just in case the message wasn’t clear enough – under Abbott there will be no Minister for the Status of Women. Instead, he’ll be advised by Parliamentary Secretary Michaelia Cash, when she’s not helping Scott Morrison turn back the boats. Or was it buy back the boats?

Then there’s the Curious Case of the Missing Portfolios. Where is Science? Housing? Mental Health? Ageing? Higher and Early Childhood Education? Disabilities? Resources and Energy?

Abbott had an explanation for some of these absences. He wanted to institute ‘title deflation’, he said, mocking the long Ministerial titles under the outgoing Labor government. For example, the Education portfolio would encompass Higher and Early Childhood Education, with specific responsibilities divided up as Christopher Pyne directed. Mental Health would be folded into Health, and Disabilities and Ageing into Social Services (in the Outer Ministry). Science, it seems, is to be ‘deflated’ almost out of existence. Abbott said that it would largely be taken care of by the Industry Minister.

On the face of it, these seem like reasonable propositions – set up ‘umbrella’ Ministries, under which similar issues can rest, with a single Minister overseeing all. Cast your mind back to the election campaign, though. (I know, I know, we’ve all tried to move on, but bear with me.) On several occasions, the Coalition emphasised the importance of mental health, including allocating significant funds for new beds, and programs such as Headspace. In fact, Abbott suggested that it would be one of its top health priorities – yet there is not even an Outer Ministry assigned to it.

Abbott also announced a number of initiatives aimed at assisting seniors, and improving aged care facilities. With his Shadow Minister for Ageing, Bronwyn Bishop, beside him, he castigated Labor’s handling of the issue and signalled his intention to restructure the aged care system. These are significant, complex initiatives, but again, apparently not complex enough to require the undivided attention of a Minister.

The situation is even worse with disabilities. The Coalition has promised to establish the National Disability Insurance Scheme, arguably the most sweeping reform in the sector. As with ageing, however, Abbott seems to believe that it can be handled by an Outer Minister responsible for the entire Social Services portfolio.

Then there’s Science. Of course, there is overlap between industry and science, but the two are hardly in lockstep. While industry looks to science for innovation, the processes of research, theoretical and experimental sciences are not necessarily driven by industry needs. Consider much of astrophysics, for example. There may be, eventually, practical applications for the study of quasars or the search for planets capable of sustaining life, but these are so far into the future that they are effectively unforeseeable. Even a great deal of medical science is exploratory, rather than focused on a problem-solving, industry-applicable approach. To be blunt, innovation and application depends on theory and experimentation.

And, of course, having Science swallowed up by Industry will take those pesky climate change concerns out of the equation. Or is that too cynical? You be the judge.

The decision to subsume important areas of governance into larger Ministries sends clear signals that conflict with the Coalition’s stated election priorities. That in itself is a huge cause for concern. There is, however, another consequence that may hold the key to why Abbott is willing to field criticism for these moves, and it lies in another election promise – to axe more than 12,000 jobs in the Public Service.

When asked how he would decide which jobs would go, Abbott spoke vaguely of ‘natural attrition’, a remarkably slippery phrase. Often, attrition occurs when someone retires and their position is not filled by a new employee. In this case, however, the new Ministry structure leaves entire departments without a Minister or a portfolio. Undoubtedly, some of the employees will need to move across (say, from Mental Health and Ageing to Health) – but there is no faster way to shed jobs than the kind of restructuring that will need to take place in order to put the Coalition’s proposed ‘streamlined’ and ‘deflated’ Ministry into effect. No one needs to be sacked – the jobs just don’t exist anymore, so sorry, thanks for your service.

So what do we have?

A Cabinet of 20 with one woman.

A claim that there are simply not enough talented women in the Coalition, which is nothing short of a slap in the face to a highly experienced former Shadow Minister.

A series of portfolios that have disappeared, with an unconvincing assurance that Ministers will make the right decisions as to how to properly oversee the issues they addressed.

A slaving of science to industry.

The groundwork laid for potentially thousands of job losses under the guise of ‘natural attrition’ and ‘restructuring’, all overseen by Senator Eric Abetz’s ‘assistance’ on the Public Service.

The Ministry is set to be sworn in on Wednesday. This, according to Abbott, will be ‘Day One’ – and we will, he says, see a difference immediately.

He’s right. Whether it’s a difference that will benefit us, however, is another story.


Husic’s oath a cause for celebration, not abuse

July 2, 2013

Prime Minister Rudd’s new cabinet was announced and sworn in yesterday. Though there were few surprises, there were several appointments of note – and one who attracted attention for all the wrong reasons.

Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese picked up the Communications portfolio in addition to his current responsibilities for Infrastructure and Transport. This is a natural, and very clever move. The NBN is one of the biggest infrastructure projects in our history, and Albanese is a practised debater with a proven ability to think on his feet. You couldn’t find a better advocate for what will undoubtedly be a major plank in Labor’s election campaign.

Mark Butler, who’s perceived to be somewhat above the usual gutter-level politics of day to day governing, moves from Mental Health and Ageing to Climate Change and Environment. It’s a major step up for Butler, but his appointment conveys the message that the portfolio is in safe – and, perhaps more importantly, untainted hands.

There are 11 women in Rudd’s cabinet, including a number who enter the ministry for the first time, such as Melissa Parke, who heads up the newly created International Development portfolio. Given Rudd’s emphasis on engagement with the Pacific Region, and China in particular, this is a major responsibility.

Inevitably, those who supported Rudd all the way along were rewarded. Recent convert Bill Shorten picked up Education along with Workplace Relations; and far be it from me to suggest that there’s more than a little irony in his taking on almost identical responsibilities to those first held by former Prime Minister Julia Gillard in the first Rudd cabinet. Encouragingly, though, many of those who held ministries under Gillard retained those positions (such as Penny Wong with Finance), or were reshuffled (O’Connor moving from Immigration to Employment).

It’s a new cabinet, with very little time for a shake-down cruise. Far from Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s sneer that this is ‘not the B team, it’s the C team,’ however, more than half of Rudd’s ministers are extremely experienced, both as politicians and in various portfolios, many of those major areas of responsibility. Their expertise will be available to new ministers, who will also be ably served by their departments.

The transition to the new cabinet went off without a hitch. The swearing-in ceremony is a formality at best; though technically able to do so, a Governor-General is hardly likely to object to any appointments. Usually, the new minister reads out a Christian oath or secular affirmation and signs a copy of said oath, which is then witnessed and proclaimed by the Governor-General. Yesterday, something new happened.

For the first time, an Australian cabinet minister swore their oath upon the Koran.

The person in question was Ed Husic, new Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and for Broadband. At his election in 2010, he was the first Muslim to enter Parliament, and took his oath alongside Jewish MPs Josh Frydenberg and Michael Danby (who swore on what The Age fatuously called ‘the Jewish bible’).

The evening news reported Husic’s use of the Koran in a relatively neutral way, commenting on it as a curiosity more than anything else. Social media was more polarised. Husic’s Facebook page became a battleground for religious commentary that went far beyond general argument, and entered the realm of personal abuse directed at the MP.

With the breathtaking arrogance that seems to accompany only the truly uninformed, Husic was told: that it was ‘impossible’ for him to take that oath, since Islam and democracy were completely incompatible; that he was committing ‘treason’; that his appointment was un-Constitutional; that he’s not a ‘real’ Muslim, so shouldn’t use the Koran; that he was exploiting Australia for his own (no doubt nefarious) purposes; and – at the height of the absurdity – that Husic’s appointment meant sharia law was on the verge of being instituted.

This is why we can’t have nice things, Australia.

Husic made a decision to take his oath of office upon the holy book of his religion – which he was perfectly entitled to do. Nothing in our Constitution prohibits that, despite those amateur Constitutional Scholars who quoted s.116 as justification for their ranting. That particular section guarantees that the government may not establish a religion, nor impose a religious test for office. No minister is required to make an oath upon a religious text – they always have the option of taking a secular affirmation.

The notion that Islam is incompatible with democracy simply shows the ignorance of those asserting such nonsense. Islam is a religion; it is not a political system. Whether it is the dominant religion within a country may influence the politics, but there is a world of difference between that and a theocracy.

As for the accusation of the country being on the verge of the sudden imposition of sharia law – well, really. There’s ridiculous, and then there’s the kind of idiocy that leaves one open-mouthed with awe. This is on a par with Senators Cory Bernardi and Mitch Fifield thundering that we are being ‘forced’ into eating halal meat, leading to ‘Islamisation-by-stealth’ of our ‘Christian’ country. According to the wingnuts on Husic’s Facebook page, however, our way of life is in danger. Oh, and apparently shows just how low Rudd is willing to go.

I confess, that one escapes me. Perhaps the poster was suggesting that Husic has secret powers over ‘The Muslims’, and will instruct them all to vote for Rudd in the upcoming election – on the condition that Rudd will bring in sharia law as soon as he takes office?

That Husic’s appointment as a Parliamentary Secretary should provoke such bigotry is perhaps not surprising, although it is disgusting – and shows just how far we have to go.

The election of an indigenous person to Parliament was a moment of celebration, lauded by all comers – and rightly so. Politicians often trot out their children-of-migrants credentials, telling fond anecdotes about when their parents first came to this country. People, apparently, like to feel that they have something in common with their representatives. Unless they’re Muslim, I guess. Oh, it was fine for Husic to be a Muslim while he was a lowly backbencher, but in the cabinet? That’s going too far.

There’s more than a whiff of tokenism about that, a sense that Australian Muslims should be satisfied with having someone in Parliament who’s ‘one of them’ (never mind that Islam, like Christianity, is a religion with many sects and diverging beliefs). What more do ‘they’ want?

I don’t know about what ‘they’ want, but what we should want is more diversity. More voices bringing different perspectives, different heritages, different ideas. We should celebrate the fact that Husic felt he could show his commitment to serving us by taking the oath on his religion’s holy book, as we should celebrate others who take affirmations or swear on other sacred texts.

Diversity does not dilute; it enriches. It allows us to embrace what is new, while affirming traditions that continue to serve us well. In doing so, we become a stronger, more compassionate nation.

Congratulations on your appointment, Mr Husic.


‘L’ Plate Cabinet or Safe Pairs of Hands?

March 25, 2013

There’s not going to be a blog about last week’s non-spill in the Labor Party. I considered it, but then … what was the point? Really? What could be said that wasn’t either pointing out the obvious, or banging my head against a wall of stupidity in both mainstream and social media?

So, in the immortal – and dreadfully twee – words of the Prime Minister’s last election campaign … this blog is ‘moving forward’. (Ugh. Who thought of that, anyway? Worst. Campaign slogan. EVER.) Last Friday, a slew of Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries offered their resignations, which the PM accepted (the exception being Simon Crean, who was sacked after he publicly called for the leadership spill and excoriated the government in the process of doing so). Martin Ferguson, Joel Fitzgibbon, Kim Carr, Janelle Saffin, Ed Husic, and Chris Bowen all went to the backbench, leaving the PM no choice but to reshuffle.

Usually, a reshuffle is not terribly good for headlines. Sometimes you get an unexpected inclusion (such as Gillard’s oft-criticised decision to appoint Rudd as Foreign Minister when he resigned), or a predicted punishment (sending Robert McLelland to the junior ministry after he supported Rudd in his challenge last year). This time, though, there are more than a few areas of interest.

First up, we’re only six months out from the September 14 election. That means any new Cabinet has a very short shake-down cruise. Second, Gillard has to show that the government has enough depth of talent to replace those who resigned – no easy task in the case of someone like Martin Ferguson.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott went on the attack almost before the ink was dry on the resignation letters. The depth simply wasn’t there, he proclaimed. Any new Cabinet would be on its ‘L’ plates – read: inexperienced, unable to do their job without the supervision of a ‘grown-up’, and potentially dangerous. He invited Australians to compare what’s left of the PM’s choices to his own, ‘stable’ front bench. There was simply no contest – and just by the way, he’ll be tabling a no confidence motion when Parliament resumes for the May Budget. (Not that this was any surprise to anyone.)

Leaving aside the posturing, Abbott did have a point. The PM was under pressure to show her Cabinet was not only competent, but experienced – and there weren’t really a lot of choices. Her solution was to side-step altogether the question of who to bring in from the backbench.

Her first announced appointment was Anthony Albanese, Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. Added to this is now Regional Development and Local Government. This is a resounding show of confidence in Albanese, whose support for Rudd is well-known. After last year’s failed challenge, he offered his resignation to the PM, who refused. Last week, he told media that he would not try to depose a sitting PM, and that he had, in fact, urged Rudd not to challenge. Nonetheless, many expected him to end up on the backbench.

In fact, this is a promotion – and a very pointed one, too. Albanese’s taken on part of Crean’s former responsibilities. It doesn’t take a political genius to see the subtext there.

Tony Burke picked up the other half of Crean’s portfolio – Arts. It’s a slightly odd fit with his current position as Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, but Burke has always had a great deal of interest in the Arts.

Craig Emerson adds Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research to the Trade portfolio. Even with two assisting junior Ministers, this is a huge amount of responsibility.

The Department for Climate Change is now merged with Industry and Innovation, all under the purview of Greg Combet. Again, somewhat strange bedfellows here – although, arguably, Combet is now in a position to drive policy encouraging business to innovate in ways that mitigate the effects of climate change. The Greens may not see it that way, however. It will be interesting to see if Christine Milne considers this merger an irreconcilable conflict of interests.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus also picked up extra responsibilities, adding Special Minister of State, Public Service and Integrity.

The appointment of Gary Gray to Resources, Energy, Tourism and Small Business surprised exactly no one. He’s a West Australian, experienced in dealing with the Resources Sector.

Jan McLucas is the new Minister for Human Services, and Jason Clare remains Minister for Home Affairs and Justice, but becomes a full Cabinet member. Finally, the PM announced a number of new junior Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries, including Andrew Leigh, who will now serve as Parliamentary Secretary to Gillard.

In a way, this isn’t really a reshuffle at all. With the exception of Gray, McLucas and Clare, there are no new appointments, no moving around. Instead, Gillard’s largely loaded more responsibility onto existing Ministers, effectively creating super-portfolios.

And take a look at those Ministers – senior, highly experienced, without a breath of incompetence clinging to them. There’s no Peter Garrett here, forever tainted by the debacle with the insulation program. Yes, Combet’s linked with carbon pricing, and Albanese is associated with Rudd, but there’s no doubt that they have performed well in their positions. More importantly, perhaps, they project the image that they are safe pairs of hands.

Albanese, Dreyfus, Emerson, Burke and Combet are Gillard’s answer to the ‘L’ plate accusation. No one could argue these are ‘drivers’ in need of supervision. (Even if Emerson does have a tendency to occasionally quote Monty Python in Question Time, or filk old Skyhooks songs in Parliament House courtyards.)

Cleverly, Gillard has also managed to take some of the wind out of Abbott’s sails in regards to his assertion that there is not enough depth of talent on the government benches. (Dear me, the metaphors are mixing terribly today.) Appointing a whole group of new Parliamentary Secretaries and junior Ministers signals to the electorate that here is the next generation of Ministers, learning their trade while apprenticed to strong, competent mentors. It doesn’t entirely nullify Abbott’s suggestion, but it goes a long way to bringing new faces into public view without exposing them to potential problems.

Of course, these new responsibilities also leave the appointees open to questions and criticism regarding their ability to handle the increased workload. They have a little over six weeks to deal with that – and I’m sure there’ll be any number of announcements and media opportunities for them to demonstrate how well they’re doing before they head back to Canberra for the Budget sitting.

This is a purely political move for Gillard. She knows she has to demonstrate to the electorate not only unity, but also competence. She has to show that, even in the face of so many resignations, she has more than enough talent on which she can rely. She’s found the best possible way to do that.


Dancing the Gillard Re-Shuffle

December 12, 2011

There’s a new dance show sweeping Canberra. It’s called the Gillard Re-Shuffle, and it’s hitting the boards just in time for the holiday season. Inspired by the retirement stylings of Nick Sherry, Minister for Small Business, these new fancy moves will undoubtedly put bums on seats for, oh, a matter of days. Of course Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, in his new, self-appointed role of the ‘grinch’ judge for Canberra’s Got Talent, is expected to provide his scathing commentary – but really, we expected that.

So who are the lucky Chorus members finally moving up to the front of the stage? Let’s take a look – and while we’re at it, we might spare a moment’s thought for those whose footwork just doesn’t keep up with the Prime Minister anymore.

Greg Combet, already dancing up a storm in Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, will also learn the moves for Industry and Innovation. In a sneaky switch-up, he’ll be backed up by Chris Evans, who takes over from Kim ‘Comrade’ Carr in Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research. Carr himself will be relegated to the Outer Ministry (or more accurately, the Outer Darkness) in Manufacturing and Defence Materiel.

Brendan O’Connor incorporates into his routine a sideways move, which will bring him into step with Peter Garrett on Education.

Jenny Macklin gives us some Disability Reform to go with her current role in Indigenous and Community Services, and Robert McLelland will display his skills in the excitingly-named but somewhat confusing role of Emergency Management, Housing and Homelessness.

Bill Shorten, long-time ‘faceless man’ of Labor’s Outer Ministry, steps up into a plum solo role in Employment and Workplace Relations, with a bit of Superannuation thrown in for good measure. His place in the supporting cast will be taken up by Mark Arbib, who’ll now be Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Small Business and Sport. As part of his new role, he’ll also be lead performer of business in the Senate.

Sadly, Shorten’s new move somewhat eclipsed the more exciting developments in choreography.

Mark Butler’s finally getting his big break; he’ll take his moves in Mental Health, Ageing and Social Inclusion to the spotlight.

Crowd favourite and QandA veteran Tanya Plibersek is going to wow us with her undoubtedly brilliant interpretation of the Health Ministry.

And finally, Nicola Roxon steps up to take on the traditionally male role of Attorney-General, with additional appearances in Privacy and Freedom of Information. This is a real opportunity for her to shine, especially with a Big Tobacco Freedom of Costume lawsuit looming on the horizon.

Of course, these big dance productions are always cut-throat, and we did have casualties. Comrade Carr was relegated and Kate Ellis lost her supporting role in Status of Women. A retrospective show-reel of their accomplishments will, presumably, be included in the upcoming DVD release.

So there we have the highlights. Few real surprises, some possibly interesting developments, and some sadly unsurprising appointments of Parliamentarians widely considered to be the major movers behind 2010’s shock replacement of former lead dancer Kevin Rudd with Julia Gillard.

‘The Gillard Re-Shuffle’ opens in February 2012. We’ll be watching with interest to see how this new company performs.

*****

(Oh, and if the tone of this article is flippant – it’s because frankly, I just can’t get worked up about this. All last weekend the media was full of ‘ooh, ah, faceless men, scary factionalism’ stuff, as though this re-shuffle was something both unique and significant. The reality? Nothing about this is either surprising or unprecedented. Prime Ministers regularly reward those who support them, and just as regularly demote those who break ranks or simply become too unpopular. It’s about as thrilling as a reality TV show or one of those interminable ‘talent’ quests. So this is all the time I’m going to spend on it – there are some real issues out there in the Australian political landscape that deserve some scrutiny.)


Gillard’s Gang of Many

September 12, 2010

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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