Modia Minotaur

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Reshuffle We Had to Have

Can it be any coincidence that John Howard announced his long-awaited cabinet reshuffle on the day Kevin Rudd hoped to catch the headlines with his first big policy statement? In a word: hardly.

Amanda Vanstone and, more surprisingly, Gary Hardgrave are the big losers. As Phillip Coorey of the SMH and others note, Vanstone wasn't the world's greatest Immigration Minister, yet Philip Ruddock must count his lucky stars that so many of the disasters that germinated during his time in the portfolio bore fruit in hers. It's quite scandalous that Ruddock has still not been held account to some of the worst debacles of the Howard Government - Children Overboard, the Cornelia Rau and Vivian Solon scandals, and the David Hicks case to name a few. And, despite rumours to the contrary, he has remained in the cabinet (perhaps because there are so few obvious contenders for his job - bizarrely, the SMH's political correspondent Peter Hartcher suggested Helen Coonan). Nevertheless, Vanstone's recent flaky media performances hardly argue for her retention. Howard damned her with the ultimate of faint praises in describing her career as `colourful'. Vanstone has now refused to rule out a diplomatic posting, despite one not actually being mentioned, which suggests she'll be packing the bags and heading for a cushy overseas post before the year's out.

Kevin `Federline' Andrews has finally been shifted aside to Vanstone's former portfolio after a painfully mediocre period arguing the case for the big ticket issue of Industrial Relations, in favour of Joe Hockey. This is a canny choice. Not the attack dog Tony Abbott would have been but always muscular in his defence of government policy - he famously made a passionate defence of the sale of the Snowy River hydro system hours before the policy was dropped by the government - he is also Kevin Rudd's sparring partner on Channel 7's `Sunrise'. To bring the government's argument to the same sorts of viewers who are already seeing the pointy end of WorkChoices on Today Tonight and A Current Affair must have been too tempting to pass up.

Meanwhile, a bland figure like Andrews is well suited to the portfolio of Immigration as the Howard Government sees it. Let me note my dismay and disgust at the removal of `multiculturalism' from the title of this portfolio. I'm sick and tired of the same people who happily go to Chinese New Year fireworks, eat a kebab on the way home and cook a bowl of pasta for dinner describing multiculturalism as a `failed experiment'. Australia is one of the countries in which mutliculturalism has enjoyed its greatest success, all things considered, and that's something we should be very proud of. `The whole purpose of immigration is to recruit more people to the broader Australian family' says Howard, as if he is reading a company's thrice-revised mission statement. Stomach churning stuff.

Speaking of which,George Brandis has been appointed Minister for Arts and Sport following the retirement of Rod Kemp The ongoing lumping of these two completely different issues into one portfolio demonstrates the contempt in which art is held by the government. As Peter Garrett recently commented - politicians clamour to be labelled a `cricket tragic', but not too many proclaim themselves theatre or dance tragics. I don't imagine Brandis will be working too hard to tip the balance.

And of course, there is the issue of Malcolm Turnbull, taking the portfolios of Environment and Water from Ian Campbell, who made the fatal mistake of making his government look foolish when he worked out climate change was real before they did. Turnbull's elevation is also a milestone for Environment as a portfolio. Finally, it has risen to the top tier of government concerns. No longer is it merely a fringe issue or a matter of simply keeping the loggers and the greenies from actual physical warfare.

Turnbull's ascension instantly brought to mind two things - firstly, the warning given by Warren Denning in his classic book `Caucus Crisis' - that early elevation without proper experience has been the undoing of many a fine potential Minister - and also the notion, expounded by Carl Jung and many others, that a crucial step in the classic Hero's Journey is the usurping of the old king by his literal or symbolic son, who can only succeed him after slaying the father and gaining his powers.

If I were John Howard - or Peter Costello, Tony Abbott or Brendan Nelson for that matter - I'd be watching my back.


At 5:06 pm, Anonymous Guy said...

Turnbull's earned his stripes in private industry and can probably handle anything that the Libs are willing to give him.

The odds are shortening rapidly of him becoming either the next Liberal PM or the next Federal Liberal Opposition Leader.

At 5:55 pm, Blogger Minotaur said...

I don't think he would have gotten into the game in the first place unless he considered that a serious possibility.

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