Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has now announced the ministry that will, hopefully, be taken to the 2016 election and beyond. That is of course unless there is more ministerial impropriety which takes place or is uncovered from the recent past. The new ministry is quite strong and relatively youthful, which suits the image, messaging and substance which PM Turnbull wants his government to portray.
A particularly brilliant choice was awarding the trade portfolio to Steve Ciobo, the MP for Moncrieff. By all reports, he has been a hard-working member of parliament and has excelled in his junior ministerial role in international development. Mr Ciobo is also a strong and confident when it comes to engaging with the media.
There were however some missed opportunities as a result of today’s reshuffle.
A few women were promoted, including new Deputy Leader of the National Party, Fiona Nash, and Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells. However, there could have been promotions offered to more, including Senator Joanna Lindgren, and the Member for Brisbane, Teresa Gambaro.
Today was also an opportunity to deal with the Minister for Immigration, Peter Dutton, who is simply not across his portfolio. Mr Dutton is also trying very hard to pull the politics of immigration and citizenship even further to the right and that is not healthy.
It must be said however, that Minister Dutton was probably kept in cabinet to appease the Abbott-backers. Also, a new minister would only be able to make the language used around asylum seekers and immigration more positive, rather than any substantive policy change. But an improvement is an improvement.
Given the bipartisan push toward the recognition of indigenous people in the Constitution of Australia and the sentiments from the Prime Minister in his Closing The Gap update to parliament, perhaps the biggest missed opportunity was in the indigenous affairs portfolio.
Currently that post is occupied by Senator Nigel Scullion, who is widely respected and has been quietly going about his business. However, for someone in what is a very important policy area in terms of the current political discourse, his voice has been conspicuously absent from a lot of the debate.
If you couple that with the fact that the Coalition Government now has two indigenous members of parliament within their ranks, then it is easy to see that talent and experience has not been harnessed there.
Ken Wyatt has extensive experience in the area indigenous health and welfare both prior to and during his time in the parliament and he would be the perfect candidate for Minister for Indigenous Affairs.
Senator Joanna Lindgren, although she has not yet been in parliament for a year, would be an ideal candidate for the junior role in this portfolio area.
Shifting Senator Scullion from the role would have proved a bit of a complicated situation, given he has held the role since 2012 and that the process for constitutional recognition of indigenous people is well underway. But, a successful change would not have been impossible.
Today, Senator Matt Canavan was appointed Minister for Northern Australia and will assist Josh Frydenberg in this role – someone who lives just about as far south on the Australian mainland as is possible.
Senator Canavan is a satisfactory choice as assistant minister in this role, given that the north of Australia is close to his heart. However, given that the government wants development of northern Australia to remain a key focus, the ministerial experience of Nigel Scullion, who lives in the Northern Territory, should be utilised in the senior role, rather than Josh Frydenberg retaining it.
Rather than election-winning moves, the changes outlined above are simply minor improvements to better serve the people who are represented in these areas of society.
On breakfast radio, former Labor leader Mark Latham gave his two cents about the predicament that the Australian Labor Party finds itself in at the present time. Latham’s views on the Australian Labor Party and the election came less than 48 hours after a thumping victory for the WA Liberals and Nationals at the state poll in the west. The former Opposition Leader made clear on the ABC’s AM program this morning, his views about Kevin Rudd and the question of the leadership of the Australian Labor Party as we amble towards the September 14 election.
To put it quite simply, Mark Latham’s thoughts on how to deal with Kevin Rudd appears to have been, like some of his past actions, the result of a brain snap. It is clear that Mark Latham has forgotten much of Australia’s recent political history. Or perhaps he like many Labor supporters, is simply wishing it away in his mind. Whatever the reason, the thought process was lacking.
Mark Latham’s brilliant advice to the ALP was for the Prime Minister to give Kevin Rudd a ministry, preferably Climate Change Minister. In making this point, Latham said that giving Rudd a ministry would be a “much better utilisation of Rudd’s talents than being Labor’s destabiliser-in-chief”.
Well Mark Latham is right about one thing here: it would be much better for the Labor Party to have a man of Rudd’s popularity in the ministry. People, on the whole, still seem willing to listen to what Kevin Rudd has to say and having one of the smarter members of the Labor team actually in the ministry would be a wise tactical decision.
Where Mr Latham’s argument fails him is his inability or perhaps unwillingness to remember what happened when the former PM was the Minister for Foreign Affairs. There was open hostility towards Prime Minister Julia Gillard from the vanquished and it all culminated in a leadership spill after which Kevin Rudd retreated to the backbench, becoming simply the MP for Griffith.
For Kevin Rudd and many of his supporters, being a part of Labor’s inner-circle would simply not be enough. We know that the backgrounding and sniping at the Prime Minister would continue right through until polling day. The only thing which would come close to bringing an end to the divisions within the party would be if he were to be given his old friend Wayne Swan’s portfolios – both of them. Even then, that most likely would not be enough for the man.
Something that needs to be kept in mind is that the worry within the Labor Party about the leadership is now far less about causing trouble for Julia Gillard because she knifed a first-term PM, and far more about worried backbench MP’s considering their best hope for electoral survival as election day nears.
The backgrounding and destabilisation now far less about causing trouble for the Julia Gillard than it was in the early days and far more about the poor poll predicament Labor find themselves in. For as long as the polls are bad for Labor, the rumbles about leadership change will continue.
In the interview Mark Latham also cautioned against Labor re-installing Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister. If the polls are to be believed, there would certainly be a positive change amid a reversion to Kevin Rudd and Labor would become at the very least competitive, but poll-winning heroics would appear to be a far-fetched idea.
The long and the short of it is that Mark Latham is wrong on Rudd. There is no way to stop the ructions in Labor except to do much better in the opinion polls. The question of leadership change is more complicated, but ultimately, if we choose to believe the published numbers, then going back to Rudd, at least in theory, is a better decision.