Modia Minotaur

Trawling the airwaves to spare you the agony!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Cabinet Reshuffle in Depth

The Prime Minister's cabinet reshuffle this afternoon is a perfect study in the art of the political balancing act.

It comes at a time when Howard has to keep a number of plates spinning. Leave any one to lose momentum, and down it crashes. One, the Nationals. Two, Peter Costello. Three, Malcolm Turnbull. Four, the balance between Nationals and Liberals in cabinet. Five, the balance between states. Six, the balance between men and women. The list goes on ...

In one sense, what we have been given is a Clayton's reshuffle. The inner ministry - positions such as Attorney General, Health, Communications, Trade and Immigration remain largely unchanged, other than Defence, which has been given to Brendan Nelson, whom Howard today described as `a details man' (his nickname - not always outside his own party - is `Rain Man'). Did Howard eschew the chance to demote ministers such as Amanda Vanstone, who have presided over scandals in their portfolio, for fear of a week or so of Opposition hoots of `I told you so!', instead risking a term's worth of further problems as these ministers continue to blunder their way through their jobs? The moral rigidity of Tony Abbott in a porfolio that must clearly be held by someone who can put aside their personal beliefs? Even the spellbindingly lacklustre performance of Kevin Andrews in the porfolio which may ultimately make or break the Howard government? The answer, apparently, is yes.

Amanda Vanstone has, at the very least, had Andrew Robb given to her as a parliamentary secretary (YAAY, thinks Robbo ...) and Aboriginal Affairs taken away from her, to be combined into an odd new super-portfolio along with Community and Family, to be held by Mal Brough, of all people. It's all very well to suggest that the cluster is designed to represent the mainstreaming of provisions to indigenous communities, but it appears the brief flirtation with the crazy idea of appointing a woman to discuss matters of family and childcare (after the previous Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Larry Anthony, lost his seat in the 2004 election) has proven to be just that - brief, and a flirtation.

Meanwhile, Julie Bishop, who was widely tipped to take this portfolio, has instead been rocketed straight into the inner ministry, replacing Brendan Nelson as education minister (Nick Minchin having dodged Defence after successfully arguing that he should stay in Finance, a move that is being interpreted as his first obvious jostle to remain first in line whenever Treasury next comes up for grabs) - too bad she's not a National, or Howard may have been able to make up for the double whammy loss of De-Anne Kelly, who has been dumped after an unspectacular stint as Veterans Affairs Minister (though following in the footsteps of Danna Vale makes anyone look like a star performer).

In fact, we could be in with a snowball's chance of seeing our first competent Vets Affairs Minister in a decade with the elevation of Bruce Billson. The former Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs has long been one of the quiet achievers on the back bench, working hard on the nasty bits of Alexander Downer's job which, in the past year, has involved visiting quite a number of trouble spots at which Lord Downer of Baghdad would find nary a state dinner, official reception or crowned head to bow to.

A joke was circulating for days before the reshuffle - sure, Malcolm Turnbull would be become a parliamentary secretary, but to who? Whom could he possibly bear playing second fiddle to? Howard answered the question in deft form by making him parliamentary secretary to himself, the Prime Minister. The complex set of messages this elevation sends can hardly be underestimated. Yes, it's an elevation. No, it's not speeding him past other MPs. Well yes, it sort of is. No, it's not a particularly important job. Well, yes, though, he's the PM's spokesman. No, he's not usurping Peter Costello. Yes, he'd be very glad if that was the perception, though ...

Speaking of which, what of these rumours that one Mr P. Costello was the one who helped `poach' Senator Julian McGuaran from the Nationals to the Liberal Party? Would Mr Costello do something so deeply destabilizing on the eve of a reshuffle that was intended to bring glory on Mr J. Howard and shore up his majority for the forseeable future? Would Howard do the honourable thing and tell McGuaran to rack off, thus leaving a gaping hole in the Senate majority?

Well I never - a pig, flying!


At 7:58 pm, Blogger leftvegdrunk said...

Bloody good roundup. Thanks. Makes more sense than the peppering of sound bytes I've managed to grab so far.

At 12:16 am, Blogger Minotaur said...

Much (belated) thanks :)

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