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Friday, 26 December 2014

Inside Tony Abbott's new menistry

Inside Tony Abbott's new menistry


Tony Abbott's new ministry after being sworn (Image screenshot ABC 7.30)

Sarah Brasch takes some time out from refining her household budget to analyse Tony Abbott's new ministerial line-up.

SORRY, but I have just got to stop bothering about the all-consuming household budget — but only for a few minutes, mind you, because that is all I can spare from the search for $550 in carbon tax savings.

Tony Abbott’s third ministry
deserves closer examination. There has been far too much store placed
on the so-called “winners and losers” so far framed around the celebrity
personalities, such as they are.

There are other ways to skin this cat.
Rather, it is horses for courses so the best runners in wet conditions
get to be in the right jobs. That is the theory anyway.

There is not a lot to see in the new Abbott line-up and certainly no
breathtaking moves in portfolio rankings. It is more some fiddling down
the back-end of the list, where the bottom-feeders scrap.

The top seven portfolios were untouched
other than a new face or two in the junior jobs while the next two down,
Pyne and Macfarlane, got changes of title to add words like “Training”
and “Science, thereby dealing with two of the smallest barnacles.

All this means is that there will be
some public servants reporting to new big bosses and some different
ministers, or the same ministers talking about new topics, popping up by
the end of January — other than Scott Morrison fast out of the blocks
on the case of his new enemies from Day One.

Machinery of government changes, as they
are called, get bedded down very quickly in Canberra, even if they
occur four days before Christmas and more than a few people are not
going to get much of a holiday. The public workforce is flexible and
very good at this sort of thing, contrary to the myths pedalled about

Shame on Abbott for spruiking Senator David Johnston in Defence as capable, trusted, on Team Australia
and so on, and then moving him out. Loyalty and that first rule of
being a minister: “cause no trouble, ruffle no feathers and do as you
are told” obviously counts for much with the PM and, no doubt, Peta Credlin.

We know this because Arthur Sinodinos
was retained on the books for nearly a year when he should have been
dropped immediately. Abbott also held open a place in Cabinet for his
special chum going back to republic referendum days, Sophie Mirabella, in the hope she could scrape into her seat, long after it was prudent to do so.

Four things about the portfolio rankings in Abbott’s new ministry stand out.

Firstly, the important health portfolio
is in last place at number 16, with a brand new minister from the
National Party, of all places. In fact, both Sussan Ley and Fiona Nash – “the Nationals’ girls” – however capable, are languishing at the end of the table.

What do they say: “Put women in jobs where there are unpopular
decisions to be made”? Thought so. Ley, of course, has copped the
unforgiving assault on Medicare and co-payment debacle.

We won’t see much of her on TV as the frontbench seating is also
dictated by Cabinet ranking. Only the first among equals get to sit
behind the Prime Minister in Question Time.

When the chips are down, there is not much money to throw around and
the finance minister is hovering, you want to be as high up on the
ministry list as possible. That is when your ranking in the Cabinet
pecking order really counts. Good luck to health and sport.

Secondly, environment remains stuck at 14. This job is much too
important to be left cellar-dwelling but, yes, we’ve got the drill and
it is Direct Action. If there was ever an economically important
portfolio, it is this one. Greg Hunt should be on Expenditure Review Committee (ERC).

But Scott Morrison now in social services at number nine got the nod
for ERC and will have a finger in the pie of every decision about the
budget. Looks like he’s being groomed for the top job if you asked me,
but no one will because I am fittingly consumed by the homefront finances.

If Julie Bishop is going to be able to seriously challenge Abbott for
the PM’s job, she would have wanted a move like the one Morrison got.
It is hard to be taken as a serious player in Cabinet and have a high
domestic profile if you are hardly ever around.

What is new is to have the social services minister as a permanent
member of ERC. To have a junior minister in Assistant Treasurer Josh Frydenberg also a member is unheard of. That move is clearly a warning shot across Joe Hockey’s bows.

Frydenberg may have the gift of the glib and is said to be on Team Morrison but is mostly an ideology-driven motormouth.

They have a smart answer for everything, don’t listen and talk too fast. Kelly O’Dwyer also needs to watch this habit.

Lastly, the important communications job headed two places south from
Number 11 to 13, taking Malcolm Turnbull with it. This tells us
something is on the slide ... Malcolm, probably.

For all the talk about Scott Morrison’s “promotion”, the social
services portfolio has only moved from up one place from 10 to 9,
swopping spots with industry and science.

Peter Dutton must be an Abbott favourite. He moved from health at
number 12 to immigration and border protection at 11 — work that one
out. Dutton’s elevation to the National Security Committee should be setting off alarm bells. We need smart brains and cool heads on there.

Finance creeps off last spot from 16 to 15, also moving Matthias Cormann up one place. As finance minister, Labor’s Lindsay Tanner was number four in the Rudd ministry. How things change.

While it was notable that the Cabinet representation of women doubled from
one to two and we now have a permanent female presence at the table to
cover Julie Bishop’s absences, it is equally notable that no women but
two men were made assistant ministers, the stepping stones to Cabinet.

The two new women, Kelly O’Dwyer and Karen Andrews, only got to
Parliamentary Secretary so will be stuck answering correspondence and
doing little, low profile tasks that the real Ministers cannot be
bothered with. There is not much chance to shine in one of these jobs
that have little input to policy direction and decisions.

Simon Birmingham,
a senator from South Australia, moved to assistant minister in
education and training. He is a republican, being one of only two
ministerial appointees not to pledge allegiance to the Queen of
Australia in Abbott’s first ministry, preferring the oath of allegiance
to Australia, as did Human Services Minister Marise Payne.

Two out of 42 thus far was not much of a show for the country to put
it mildly. At time of writing, it is not clear which option the two
newbies chose at the 23 December swearing-in but, whichever way they went, it is not going to make much difference to advancing our government.

That brings me to the subject of the representatives for women, still
the Prime Minister himself and sidekick, Minister Assisting Senator Michaelia Cash — not in Cabinet and who has had little impact in this role. Publicly, she’s well-tethered.

Abbott could have followed his “bro” Stephen Harper in Canada and appointed women to nearly one third of an impressive cross-section of a ministry
[.] But no, not enough merit can be found. Antennae should start
jangling as soon as any (conservative) man starts talking about women
and merit in the same breath.

In fact, the best thing that the PM could have done for women this
year, given no sweeping gestures Harper-style could ever have been
contemplated, would have been to command all his male Ministers to wear
ties of any colour other than blue, follow his own diktat and then get
rid of the speedos. Peta Credlin really needs to do a good throw-out of
all the polyester horrors Abbott routinely turns out in.

Still defying Gillard, in her face and ours, after all this time. It is a pathetic badge of honour.

Sarah Brasch is the National Convenor of Women for an Australian Republic.

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