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A Look at Queensland’s New Ministry

Two weeks have passed since the shock result of the state election in Queensland. The Electoral Commission of Queensland has declared all 89 seats and confirmed a surprise Labor Government, just three years after the ALP were spectacularly turfed out of office. On Sunday, new Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk unveiled her first ministry to the waiting public.

Unsurprisingly, given the turnaround in electoral fortune, it contains a significant proportion of inexperienced ministers, with a few old faces returning to the frontbench. There are some good choices and some bad ones and also some lost opportunities.

The new ministry also rewards those who claimed big scalps at the election.

The ministry is slimmer this time around, with 14 personnel making up the frontline of the Palaszczuk Government as opposed to 19 in the former Newman Government

 

Premier, Minister for the Arts: Annastacia Palaszczuk:

The accidental Premier. Someone many thought would lose the Opposition Leader job to a returning heavy-hitter such as Cameron Dick.

The excitement of becoming Premier is still there to see on Ms Palaszczuk’s face. Premier Palaszczuk did not have to do much work to earn the title, so will she grow into the role?

The new Premier will have to learn the ropes quickly or the ALP could very easily be a one-term government.

 

Deputy Premier, Minister for Transport, Minister for Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning, Minister for Trade: Jackie Trad

A rapid rise to prominence for the MLA for South Brisbane. Just three years after replacing former Anna Bligh in a by-election, the former opposition’s spokesperson on Transport and Main Roads, Environment and Heritage Protection, Small Business, Consumer Affairs and the Arts becomes Deputy Premier, coupled with a big portfolio.

Annastacia Palaszczuk aside, Ms Trad was definitely one of the better performing of the ALP’s 9 parliamentary representatives.

The role of Deputy Premier might have been better suited to an MP with ministerial experience like Curtis Pitt who is the new Treasurer or Cameron Dick.

The combination of portfolios is a little strange and is an unnecessary result of the smaller ministry. It would have been ideal if the new Deputy Premier simply had the additional ministry of Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning, with Transport tacked onto the end. After all, transport is a vital form of infrastructure. The trade portfolio should have been given to Treasurer Curtis Pitt.

Will the diversity of responsibilities be a hindrance?

 

Treasurer, Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships: Curtis Pitt

Unsurprisingly, Curtis Pitt moves from Shadow Treasurer into the Treasury Portfolio.

For someone in such an important portfolio in opposition, he was not seen and heard as much as he should have been over the three years of Campbell Newman’s Government. This could have been a product of the fact that there was no anticipation from the ALP that they would be in government in 2015, or that he would have been replaced in the portfolio by a returning MP.

Employment and Industrial Relations is quite a natural match for the Treasury portfolio, so it is a good move from the ALP Government to link it with the treasury portfolio.

While it can easily be argued that there is an important relationship between employment and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships portfolio, that is not all there is to the latter portfolio. This responsibility should have been given to the Minister for Communities or the Attorney-General.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships portfolio should have gone to one of the two indigenous MP’s who won seats at the election. It beggars belief that this did not occur.

The salient question here is, will we see the modest spending commitments made by Labor in opposition carry through into government? History says no.

 

Minister for Health, Minister for Ambulance Services: Cameron Dick 

It is entirely unsurprising that an MLA with ministerial experience like Cameron Dick was given the health portfolio. The former Attorney-General and Minister for Education has 3 years’ experience in senior ministerial positions.

It is also not a big secret that the MLA for Woodridge was seen as a leadership contender leading up to the election and what better portfolio to give someone with leadership aspirations than the poisoned chalice of the health portfolio? Trouble is, he could shine at the role, repairing relationships with the sector which were broken by the LNP.

While this portfolio is often used to temper the leadership ambitions of colleagues, it should have been given to someone skilled in areas related to the portfolio. Doctor Anthony Lynham would have been the ideal person to take on this job.

The question is whether or not the new minister can get on top of important issues relating to prompt care of patients who present to health facilities?

 

Minister for Education, Minister for Tourism, Major Events and Small Business, Minister for Commonwealth Games: Kate Jones

The MLA for Ashgrove, who took on Premier Campbell Newman and won back the seat she lost to him in 2012, has been rewarded with a plum role in the form of the education portfolio. Ms Jones brings some ministerial experience to the cabinet table and should again be one of the better performers in the ALP caucus.

Kate Jones has also been given a variety of other roles in what can only be described as a bizarre mismatch of portfolios.

Tourism and Major Events belong together, and should also include the Commonwealth Games portfolio. These responsibilities should have been given to the Minister for State Development. The Minister for Sport and Racing should have also shared in the Commonwealth Games portfolio. Quite clearly, Small Business should have been included in Minister Pitt’s portfolio.

The question here is will the people of Ashgrove like that their returning local member will be busy with such a large portfolio of ministerial responsibilities?

 

Minister for State Development, Minister for Natural Resources and Mines: Doctor Anthony Lynham

For winning back Stafford for the ALP at a by-election brought on by the resignation of Dr Chris Davis, then of the LNP, Dr Lynham has been given a very important portfolio.

This portfolio combination is sound. As mentioned above however, Dr Lynham should be in the health portfolio.

A question people will want to know the answer to, is just how much development will be allowed by the new minister? Over the last three years the ALP has railed against some key development projects.

 

Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Minister for Training and Skills: Yvette D’Ath

Yvette D’Ath, another by-election winner has been rewarded with a senior role in the government.

The former federal MP takes on another oddly shaped portfolio. What kind of logic was used in separating the Training and Skills portfolio from either the education or employment portfolios? Terrible logic.

Yvette D’Ath is not the best choice for this position. There are at least two members of the ALP caucus better suited to this position. The Premier should have chosen former Attorney-General Cameron Dick, or high-profile lawyer Peter Russo.

One question with regard to this portfolio is whether the new Attorney-General and the ALP Government will show due deference to the rule of law and principles of justice? Another essential question is will the government be able to swiftly regain the confidence of the legal fraternity?

 

Minister for Police, Fire and Emergency Services, Minister for Corrective Services: Jo-Ann Miller

The combative member for the safe ALP seat of Bundamba, who has sat in the parliament since 2000,  picks up a portfolio which was front and centre of the last 3 years in the Newman Government’s response to criminal gangs.

A question on everyone’s lips is how will Jo-Ann Miller deal with the outlaw gang issue? It looks certain that a softer approach is on the way. The rule of law and principles of justice have to be front and centre, while at the same time making sure that the public continue to feel safe.

 

Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Minister for Sport and Racing: Bill Byrne

Bill Byrne is now in his second term as the MLA for Rockhampton. He picks up a ministry different to the one he held while in opposition.

The member for Rockhampton has also been awarded a strange portfolio mix. Agriculture and fisheries go well together, but sport and racing is a strange addition. The latter should have been included in the Tourism and Major Events portfolio as sporting tourism is an important drawcard for visitors to and within Australia.

It was a smart decision to make Bill Byrne the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries. His electorate is well-known for agriculture, especially beef production and is in close proximity to the coastline.

A crucial question is how will this minister assist his colleagues in ensuring the ongoing viability of our fisheries as climate change hits and mining impacts take their toll?

 

Minister for Main Roads, Road Safety and Ports, Minister for Energy and Water Supply: Mark Bailey

Mark Bailey is a brand new MP, having beaten former LNP MP Carl Judge in Yeerongpilly. He takes on a large portfolio for a parliamentary newcomer.

Mr Bailey’s portfolio is also a hodgepodge of seemingly mismatched responsibilities. Main Roads should have been kept with Transport, along with Road Safety. Ports should have been included in the Infrastructure or State Development portfolio and those two areas merged into one ministerial area of responsibility.

There are two important questions in this space: What will happen on the ports front? And how well will Mark Bailey work with the self-appointed ‘infrastructure Prime Minister’ on what may well be competing priorities?

 

Minister for Housing and Public Works, Minister for Science and Innovation: Leeanne Enoch

The story of Leeanne Enoch is one of the best to come out of the 2015 election. The new minister and equally new MLA is one of two indigenous MP’s who were elected to the Queensland Parliament – a first for the state.

But yet again we have a case of confused ministerial priorities and missed opportunities.

The Housing and Public Works portfolio should be closely associated with either the Community Services, Infrastructure or State Development portfolios. The Science and Innovation responsibilities should be wedded with either Education, Employment or even State Development.

While housing is a big issue for indigenous Australians, it is a missed opportunity that Ms Enoch was not appointed to a broadened role relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island affairs, or even Community Services.

A question which has barely been countenanced in this area in recent times is what will be the strategy in relation to homelessness? This appears to be a forgotten issue in Australian politics.

 

Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection, Minister for National Parks and the Great Barrier Reef: Steven Miles 

Yet another first-time MP straight into a ministry. The new member for Mount Coot-tha has been rewarded for unseating Saxon Rice in the inner-city electorate. Over the next 3 years this portfolio will be one of the most widely mentioned in the political arena.

This is the best constructed portfolio of all fourteen ministries. Every aspect of it is interconnected.

People will be wanting an answer to the question of how much this portfolio will focus on the reef and also around Gladstone?

 

Minister for Disability Services, Minister for Seniors, Minister Assisting the Premier on North Queensland: Coralee O’Rourke

Coralee O’Rourke unseated a Newman Government Minister in David Crisafulli on January 31 and has been rewarded with what is a vital portfolio, given the aging population and the NDIS, which is in the important trial phase.

The North Queensland focus, while clashing with what is a social policy portfolio, will suit the Townsville-based MP. The North Queensland part of Ms O’Rourke’s responsibilities could however have been given to the state development minister if the Premier had chosen an MP from North Queensland to fill that role.

This is yet another case of picking the wrong candidate. Rob Pyne, a quadriplegic, was also elected to parliament on the 31st of January and given his personal experience with disability, would have been the ideal candidate for this ministry.

A topic of consideration will be what issues the NDIS trials raise and how the government works with other state governments and the federal government to ensure the NDIS becomes fully operational.

Also under consideration will be what additional government support is required in North Queensland.

 

Minister for Communities, Women and Youth, Minister for Child Safety, Minister for Multicultural Affairs: Shannon Fentiman

Another minister, another rookie MP. Shannon Fentiman joins the Palaszczuk ministry after defeating Mike Latter of the LNP at the January 31 state ballot.

This is quite a large portfolio to start with but could have been even bigger if a streamlined version included disability and other areas of community services.

In the area of multicultural affairs, state governments do very little, especially when the Commonwealth Government has carriage of immigration policy. Nonetheless, making people from different backgrounds feel welcome and included in Australian society is a role state governments can play

There are a number of issues to consider in this area including: homelessness, getting more women and young people into the workforce and protecting children from online dangers.

 

Leader of the House, Assistant Minister of State Assisting the Premier: Stirling Hinchliffe

Stirling Hinchliffe returns to state parliament after losing his seat along with most of his colleagues in 2012. Mr Hinchliffe has effectively been demoted, given that his last role in government was the Minister for Mining.

Using his experience in key economic portfolios in the former Bligh Government, Mr Hinchliffe’s main task will be to help the new Premier behind the scenes.

As Leader of the House, he will also be both a general and guide to the whole ALP caucus.

First and foremost, we wait to see how well he negotiates with the crossbench. We know that most legislation is likely to be passed. However, it is unlikely everything will be smooth sailing.

Limping to the Election

Federal parliament returns tomorrow, bringing with it Question Time and all the shouty goodness we’ve grown to expect from our parliamentarians. And today the new Gillard Government ministers were sworn in by the Governor-General in Canberra. After that there was time for a meeting of Labor caucus which endorsed Senator Stephen Conroy as the Leader of the Government in the Senate and back Senator Penny Wong as his deputy. Finally, in that same caucus meeting there was time for a little bit of a warning from the Prime Minister.

All of today’s events, in their own separate ways, provide lessons. They should serve as a reminder that there is a right way and a wrong way to go about participating in the business of party politics.

Two senior Gillard Government MP’s announced their retirements at the weekend, sparking a reshuffle of the ministry late in the election cycle, close to seven months before the 2013 election. This is not an irregular event before an election, especially one where the incumbents are expected to lose. To have two go in the same day is particularly bad, especially when one is the Attorney-General.

Such a public exodus of ministers, especially when combined with MP’s, does the job of reinforcing to the public that the incumbents are on the way out. It also fuels the cynic’s, in many cases the realists’ fire. It looks like they are going to preserve the best possible parliamentary pension that they can.

It is strange that so close to an election that the Labor Party will likely lose, that the Prime Minister would choose to finally promote some of the more talented members of her caucus. Mark Dreyfus QC  has been made Attorney-General, in place of Nicola Roxon and is, in terms of legal prowess and standing, a much more robust choice for the role. Chris Bowen finally breaks free of the shackles of the immigration portfolio, while Mike Kelly takes on Defence Materiel.

What happens to the talent in the event of a stint in opposition? Surely some will want to return to their private lives before being granted the chance to govern again?

Let’s not forget that the Liberal Party will also see a number of MP’s making an exit at the election too. In fact, at this stage more Liberal member’s of parliament are leaving the Australian parliament. This is not however about electoral prospects, but rather, more liberal Liberals giving up representing an increasingly conservative Liberal Party.

The ALP caucus today erred on a further two fronts. First of all, endorsing Senator Conroy as Leader of the Government in the Senate is a poor decision, though of course it will not matter so much in terms of the election result. Senator Conroy is one of the most underwhelming parliamentarians and one of the poorest communicators. His new deputy, Senator Wong, would have made a much better choice. In fact almost anyone on the Labor side in the Senate bar Senator Ludwig, would have been a better option.

Finally this afternoon, the Labor Party was given a bit of a lecture from the PM where Ms Gillard warned against leaks. Leaks are inevitable, that’s politics. But to be outwardly warning your party against such unwise actions after a recent history of damaging tit-for-tat backgrounding is unfortunate. It also helps reinforce the argument that tensions within the government are making it unstable. How many warnings against harmful leaks need to go completely unheeded? If everyone in the party room does not yet know that the enemy is the opposition and not each other, then that is a real shame for the Australian Labor Party.

There needs to be far more discipline shown by Labor. They need to prove they are not in complete disarray and at the very least mitigate against the potential for a major loss of seats on September 14th.

After close to 6 years in office, the Labor Party should have finally learned to make the right decisions in terms of internal governance. Instead a still stewing split between the Gillard and Rudd supporters has helped hijack the chances of more sensible  and more strategically sound decision-making.

It’s too late for any of that to make a real difference now.

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