Modia Minotaur

Trawling the airwaves to spare you the agony!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Frontbench: Hits, Memories and Shock Inclusions

Well, here's proof that Kevin Rudd doesn't read blogs. I can barely find a single member of the new Shadow frontbench whose position I or anyone else anticipated. There's been a lot more chopping and changing than I expected, and those who have been promoted are, in general, not the sorts of people I would have described as having a lot of momentum behind them. Perhaps that's a good thing, I'm not sure.

Case in point is Joel Fitzgibbon, who (again, completely in contrary to my predictions) will make the largest leap forward to the key Defence portfolio, replaciing Robert McClelland, who moves to Foreign Affairs.

A shame, as the idea of Stephen Smith taking this role had really grown on me. Instead, he takes Education and Training, a portfolio I had assigned with some confidence to Craig Emerson, who instead moves to a new portfolio for the Service Industry, Small Business and Independent Contractors. Now, the idea of creating new portfolios is something I did anticipate, and this one is a particularly canny. The phenomenon of the independent contractor is one of the great elephant-in-the-corner issues to emerge in past years, and one with serious implications in many areas - particularly industrial relations.

To grasp back a modicum of respectability as a political commentator, I note that Peter Garrett has indeed been given Arts, as well as a newly named Climate Change, Environment and Heritage portfolio (at the expense of Anthony Albanese, who retains his Water portfolio and picks up Infrastructure). My off-the-cuff suggestion of Jenny Macklin for Indigenous Affairs also proved correct.

A number of portfolios have received a slightly new spin - for example, Sport and Recreation (retained by Kate Lundy) is now Sport, Recreation and Health Promotion; Immigration (retained by Tony Burke) has the slightly dog-whistleish and dodgy title of Immigration, Integration and Citizenship. One I'd like to single out is Bob McMullan's who, in addition to the Federal/State Relations role previously announced, takes control of International Development Assistance, which appears to be the former Overseas Aid portfolio. It's no surprise that such a portfolio should be redefined by someone with Rudd's background, and I hope it will demonstrate that international development assistance helps not only those to whom it goes to, but Australia, in terms of regional stability and goodwill.

Some portfolios have also been consolidated or at least assigned to the same person. Chris Evans' new National Development, Resources and Energy role is one example. However, the lack of consolidation on some issues is puzzling. Why is there a separate Shadow Minister for Local Government (Kate Lundy) and another for Territories (Arch Bevis)? I've never understood the point of having two different people responsible for family and community services - Human Services, Youth and Women (Tanya Plibersek) and Families & Community Services (Jenny Macklin). Though the portfolios precede Rudd, it would have been great to see the situation rectified.

The same is roughly true of people who are given a range of disparate portfolio responsibilities. Do Transport and Roads have much to do with Tourism (Martin Ferguson, who will now have to make controversial statements about uranium on his own time)? I'm sure Tanya Plibersek will do well with Housing, but is saddling her with an additional and quite different portfolio to her others do her a disservice? I'm also concerned that not only has her Childcare portfolio disappeared entirely, but so too has any portfolio with specific responsibility for Children. I've long considered child care another of the great sleeper issues. In this case, it appears Rudd doesn't agree.

There is little unexpected news in regards the key economic team of Wayne Swan (Treasury), Lindsay Tanner (Finance), Simon Crean (Trade) and Chris Bowen (replacing Joel Fitzgibbon as Assistant Treasurer) - with the stark exception of Kim Carr. As Shadow Minister for Housing, Carr oversaw a well-regarded discussion paper on affordable housing. Does he have the economic credibility to take on the all-important Industry portfolio (split, as I predicted, from IR, which has been given, as nearly everyone predicted, to Julia Gillard, who has also been given a new role called Social Inclusion, which absolutely nobody predicted)? Carr's appointment, as many of the others, strikes me as a reward not for the loud voices, but for the ones who quietly and diligently chipped away in the background - much like Rudd himself.

Should some of these voices have been louder nonetheless? Nicola Roxon could have pushed the issue of David Hicks as relentlessly as Rudd pushed AWB, yet I literally don't recall a single statement from her. Instead, it was left up to the State Attorneys General to make a strong statement via the Fremantle Declaration, and to co-ordinate the campaign against his imprisonment to Philip Ruddock. In short, she's been a solid, unspectacular, could-do-better Shadow Attorney General, which makes her elevation to Health Minister all the more puzzling. This, like Education, is a role in which policies must be enunciated clearly and with passion. As always, I stand to be proven wrong, but I'm just not that optimistic that Roxon or Smith will be able to take the fight on what I consider to be two of the most crucial issues up to the government. I hope Roxon's replacement, Kelvin Thompson, is better able to call the government to task over its indifference to issues such as human rights, the death penalty, and privacy.

I'm sure you've detected my lack of enthusiasm by now. I'm not sure why I'm so unenthused, and it's unfair - most of the above have yet to prove themselves in their new roles, and they will probably do well in them. I hope so - next year, we have an election to win.

The full list of positions is available in PDF format here.


At 7:17 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good stuff Minotaur. I agree with everything you've said ... which is scary

At 8:43 pm, Anonymous Milltown Pete said...

I think its back to Milltown for Pete to wait for the REAL new front bench. This is a factional/support base/reward/olive branch pea and cup trick and NOT the threatened "I will get whatever I need" assignment of roles. Garrett is the only new visible talent, and the front bench must still carry the odd factional hack and no-hoper.
Nothing better illustrates the point made on "Insiders" that the Opposition front bench is less than the sum of its members.

At 8:55 pm, Blogger Minotaur said...

I'm afraid I must reluctantly agree. Some choices just can't be anything other than the result of factional dealmaking, which is a shame.

At 3:49 pm, Anonymous arleeshar said...

I note that they've structured the IR portfolio to mirror traditional union concerns. They've maintained one 'traditional' IR portfolio as the flagship fairness Gillard hottness, and slipped in a 'non-traditional' portfolio dealing with the people in the workforce that trade unions don't historically cover and have problems dealing with under their existing structures - casual labour (service industry), contractors, small business. I am looking for innovative new policy to come out of this portfolio.

At 8:49 pm, Blogger Minotaur said...

I definitely agree on that one - it's also the real way to make the issue of IR count not only for the usual suspects but to everyone - by pointing out the way that workplace issues encroach on so many other aspects of life

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