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Sep 15, 2010

Abbott line-up follows Gillard -- with a twist

Tony Abbott's reshuffle is a lot like Julia Gillard's. However, there are two shadow ministers with questions to answer over conflict of interest issues.

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For what was already a fairly right-wing shadow ministry, Tony Abbott shifted it a couple of paces further to the right yesterday, and entrenched two remarkable conflicts of interest that have gone under the radar in the past nine months.

The clearest winners are a clutch of hard Right up-and-comers such as Mathias Cormann, who comes into the ministry, and Michaelia Cash, elevated to a Parliamentary Secretaryship. The vapid burqa-banner Cory Bernardi continues as Abbott’s own Parliamentary Secretary. And far from euthanasing the career of Bronwyn Bishop, Abbott has promoted her by giving her Special Minister of State.

Moderates have had mixed success. Sussan Ley has been given two junior ministries. But the gifted Simon Birmingham has been confined to the ranks of Parliamentary Secretary. The sensible, moderate Steve Ciobo, in a particularly shabby act by Abbott, has been punished a second time for being a Turnbull supporter — he was initially demoted to Tourism by Abbott and has now been sacked from the ministry altogether. Sharman Stone, too, has been sent packing. Key Turnbull backer Michael Ronaldson has also been punished a second time — demoted out of shadow cabinet initially by Abbott, he’s now been dumped in Veteran’s Affairs.

There’s merit, though, in Mitch Fifield finally getting a gig, and while Jamie Briggs should have got something much better than Guy Barnett’s old “waste watch” job (courtesy of the rout of the Liberals in Tasmania on 21 August, Barnett won’t be joining us for the rest of his career), it’s a start. On the other hand, Kelly O’Dwyer and Paul Fletcher might be wondering how deep the Liberals’ commitment to generational change really is, particularly when Teresa Gambaro comes straight back onto the frontbench.

So a step to the right, backers of the former leader punished, a hint of merit — throw in the return of an ex-leader and it’s rather a lot like Julia Gillard’s new ministry.

Barnaby Joyce will continue in the role of Regional Development, Local Government and Water (Birmingham, for his sins, will continue as Parliamentary Secretary for the MDB under Joyce). Joyce is deeply conflicted in relation to water and should not under any circumstances have ministerial responsibility for the issue. He is virtually the senator for Cubbie Station, a long-term advocate of Cubbie, its rapacious approach to water management and its backers. So strongly committed to Cubbie is Joyce that in October last year he called a press conference in Parliament House to launch an attack on Bill Heffernan and Nick Xenophon, emotionally accusing them of being responsible for the Station’s financial problems (Heffernan was so angered by the attack he went down to a Nationals’ function looking for Joyce to confront him).

Joyce has also agreed to being flown by Murray Irrigation, revealing in June this year via the Pecuniary Interests Register that he had accepted flights from Australia’s largest private irrigation company in May. He did this while Murray was being pursued by the ACCC over its imposition of termination fees on customers who wanted to sell their water rights, which shortly afterward led to Murray agreeing to an enforceable undertaking to stop the practice.

Another shadow minister with a significant conflict of interest is Kevin Andrews, a man whose record as both minister and shadow minister is unblighted by evidence of talent. Shortly after the reshuffle, Andrews rushed out a press release boasting of his expanded portfolio of Families, Housing and Human Services. Andrews and his wife are hardline Catholic marriage counsellors (his wife has long edited the Catholic marriage journal Threshold) and Andrews maintains his membership of Catholic bodies such as Marriage Education and the Australian Catholic Marriage and Family Council, putting him in a hopelessly conflicted position in the event the Coalition should attain government and Andrews has responsibility for the Family portfolio and funding for family services.

Neither Andrews nor Joyce, whose nine-month career as a shadow minister has been serially maladroit, should be on the Liberal frontbench when backbenchers of quality are twiddling their thumbs. But under no interpretation of the basic notion of conflict should they hold their current roles, given the Coalition is only two seats away from government.

Bernard Keane — Politics Editor

Bernard Keane

Politics Editor

Bernard Keane is Crikey’s political editor. Before that he was Crikey’s Canberra press gallery correspondent, covering politics, national security and economics.

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32 thoughts on “Abbott line-up follows Gillard — with a twist

  1. Chris1979

    Michael R James.

    Really? God-botherers! Really?

    I want the best Australia possible. I want an Australia where religion is no basis for a vote, but rather talent, policy and job performance are.

    You, and to a lesser extent Bernard, are persecuting a guy based on his religious views. That is poisonous! The difference is I think Bernard is struggling to flesh out an article (and kudos to you Bernard for managing over an article a day on a new topic – sincerely that is a big effort).

    With regard to Andrews, but more broadly applicable to any politican

    If his or her views inform his or her policy and it turns out his or her policy is rubbish, punish them for having poor policy.

    If it turns out he or she is talent free and makes a hash of his or her shadow portfolio, punish them on the basis of poor job performance.

    If his or her previous job performance was poor, and you don’t belive he or she is up to the task, punish them for that.

    All three approaches above are fair and reasonable. Don’t conflate them with religion. That is dangerous and it cuts ways. Poisonous people on the left and right will use it to their advantage. Take the high ground, set an example and don’t let the argument degenerate.

    If you are not voting for him or Abbott on the basis of their religious beliefs than you are just analogous to the poisonous people who tried to make out that Gillard can’t govern because she is atheist. Both views are scaremongering and invalid.

    I know that is the way some people vote, but it shouldn’t be. And if you genuinely despise those who derided Gillard for being atheist, then take the high ground, set an example and don’t let the argument degenerate rather than bashing the other side in kind.

  2. Michael R James

    Hey, this is great. Almost perfect! I want more and more Barnaby, and Truss and Abetz, and the two Bishops. And Joe H. If this lot and their shrieking of No does not backfire and quickly, even with News Ltd help, I would be surprised. After all it did not work in the election and it didn’t work for any of the independents (including Katter and Crook). Abbott’s position as preferred PM remains as dismal as ever (34% v 50% for the actual PM, but look for her % to improve a lot in the coming weeks/months–notwithstanding the rather inept naming of ministries).

    Abbott has attempted to snooker Turnbull by giving him an issue on which the Coalition comprehensively lost (except to the innumerate, the illiterate and those asleep, ie. the rusted on core of the LNP) and which, as painfully slow as it is, the government will begin to show real progress (even if most of us have given up on Conroy managing to clearly define it or sell it). It might work as one can see Malcolm straining to be convincing on the weak Coalition stance and continue criticizing what he would probably support if, say, an independent.

    If this Coalition strategy of deliberate induction of chaos works, then frankly Julia Gillard and co. do not deserve government. But Gillard has shown during the election fracas that she is made of cold blue steel, acier inox to Abbott’s rusty pig iron. In a sword fight it is clear who will win, and didn’t Abbott come in second last on that triathalon? Despite myths to the contrary he is not made for the long haul, only the quick frantic jab and thrust. And, to take metaphors too far, remember that one of the strategies of a red fox when chasing a rabbit is not necessarily to outrun it but to outlast it. Mr Rabbit and his team already look past their sellby date.

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