By Hugo Kelly, Stephen Mayne and various Crikey Friends
Crikey will profile every Australian Cabinet in the months ahead and we open our series with an inside look at Labor’s Victorian Cabinet. Our thanks to the various insiders and government watchers who have helped assemble this. We’d be delighted to receive any feedback if we have been overly harsh or inaccurate in any respect. Send emails in to firstname.lastname@example.org
The Bracks Ticket
The foibles of politics. After taking government on a massive anti-Kennett groundswell and enjoying 100 days of goodwill, Steve Bracks flew off to Jeff Kennett’s favourite economic forum, Davos in Switzerland, to spread the word about the new Victoria. When he got back, he found the place in disarray so maybe his instincts about not going were on the money.
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Widespread blackouts cut power during the hottest week for years, building workers were ratcheting up a campaign for more money and fewer hours, and developers were bailing out of building projects which had been expected to underpin the State’s economic growth.
When Bracks unveiled his new front bench, dumping old faces and factional warriors, he said his “leader’s ticket” more accurately reflected the face of Victoria – with eight women and two MPs from the all-important bush.
Bracks has a mixed bag of ministerial talent, with the dominant right wing supplying the key portfolios. In particular, the fumbled response to the power crisis – a problem that had been on the political radar for weeks – showed up passengers on the front bench, and there’s likely to be a reshuffle later in the year to promote brighter and better MPs.
So here it is. The first of seven Australian Cabinets to be profiled by the Crikey Team.
Premier, Treasurer, Multicultural Affairs
New style Labor leader who admires much of the economic and governing theories of former Kennett government treasurer Alan Stockdale. Bracks has embraced Stockdale’s hatred of state debt in publicly backing a zero debt strategy. There’s only $6 billion to go, Steve. He’s guaranteed no deficit-funding in the budget and believes it can over-achieve on the promised $100 million annual surplus. Bracks has kept people like former Industry Commission chief Bill Scales, now head of the Premier’s department, and Treasury chief Ian Little. However, whispers are starting to spread about whether Scales is there for the long term. Little and Scales have rammed through cost cutting in departments such as education.
Bracks’ inexperience – and that of his entire Cabinet – has placed even more power in the hands of these Sir Humphrey types. “Bill Scales is running Victoria,” was how one former Kennett staffer put it. Scales attends most of Bracks’ meetings with business and the Premier defers to him constantly. Bracks has also kept the title of Treasurer but may shed this to John Brumby after achieving his personal goal of handing down the 2000-01 budget in May. However, suspicion – particularly held by Bracks’ senior advisers – about Brumby’s long term ambitions, could see him retain direct control over the purse strings. Question marks remain over whether he’s tough enough and he has demonstrated an early inability to make decisions, preferring to throw working parties at problems ranging from WorkCover to drugs. Pro-business credentials have been tarnished by his mishandling of the Yallourn Energy dispute and his cleanskin image was also tarred by excessive access given to James Packer and his political fixer Graham Richardson. His failure to intervene over Yallourn earlier clearly reflects a lack of confidence, and willpower, to take on the unions. Given he inherited bucket loads of cash from his hero Stockers, and his stated observance of tight spending, money matters will not bring this government unstuck – that will be left to the unions. His chief of staff, former ACTU heavyweight Tim Pallis, should be managing the unions better for his boss. Bracks has also been remarkably restrained in tolerating Kennett government apologists. Ron Walker has clung on to his Grand Prix and Commonwealth Games gigs and MCG Trust chairman John Wylie, a close mate of Jeff’s whose CS First Boston firm sold the power industry for $90 million in fees, is also still watching plenty of live sport courtesy of the taxpayer.
Transport and Minister for Picture Opportunities
One of the best political minds available to the government, Batchelor is a methodical minister who knows the rats and mice of transport, roads and CityLink after years spent chasing the Kennett government in those areas from the opposition benches. A member of the Socialist Left, Batchelor is also influential in the internal politics of the Right-dominated Victorian ALP. Had his work cut out as the government’s leader of business in the Lower House with the number of rookie MPs, but managed to steer the government through Spring without any major hitches. The big challenge will come in the Autumn session by which time his propensity for getting his picture in the paper may have subsided as sections of the media wake up to the fact that they are being worked over by a savvy media performer. Batchelor is also a prime example of that great Australian trait of forgiveness – one straight out of the Laurie Brereton and Botany Council manual of forgiveness. Batchelor is now a senior minister in Australia’s second biggest state despite printing fake how to vote cards for the Nuclear Disarmament Party back in 1985 during the crucial Nunawading by-election. We forgive but not everyone forgets.
Energy & Resources, Ports
A former adviser to Joan Kirner who is still coming to grips with her responsibilities in this largely economic portfolio. She is working hard behind the scenes with Bracks advisor Rob Hudson to pull off a deal with NSW and Canberra over the Snowy River flow.
Given independent Craig Ingram’s power, she has one of the biggest jobs in Cabinet. Doubtful she will succeed in getting 28 per cent flow but may swing 15 per cent. Got caught up in the Yallourn Energy dispute and accused by those close to the company of not doing enough to avert industrial action. Yallourn Energy wrote to her on several occasions late last year and last month but got little joy. In fact, she didn’t even respond at first and only agreed to a meeting in early February. This is quite extraordinary behaviour given that she is Victoria’s Energy Minister and Yallourn supplies 20 per cent of the state’s power.
Maybe she was too busy taking lessons with PricewaterhouseCoopers energy specialist Neville Henderson on how the industry works. Henderson, a former SECV exec, has been tutoring her recently in an attempt to get her up to speed on her new patch.
Finance, Assistant Treasurer, State & Regional Development
Despite floundering in his final period as opposition leader, Brumby is widely viewed by Labor MPs, including those in rival Left-wing factions, as one of the government’s most competent performers. Defacto Treasurer, playing a key role in the Budget Expenditure Review Committee (BERC) and sat on the government’s razor gang which slashed spending by $100 million. Still harbours ambitions for the top job but no challenge is forseeable in the next three years. Has taken advantage of the inexperience of many of his ministerial colleagues by spreading his tentacles in their areas, particularly energy and major projects. Some have interpreted this as an attempt to build his own empire within government. There are significant suspicions among senior figures in the Bracks camp about Brumby’s simmering ambitions but these have been smoothed over by the shock and subsequent joy of being in government. Brumby also masterminded the bush strategy during the election and will therefore oversee the excessive “thank you” projects such as highly uneconomic regional rail projects.
Brumby has also taken on IT – an area the world’s first Multimedia Minister, Alan Stockdale, had turned into a powerhouse performer. He delivered a promising IT statement, but has yet to follow with substantive action, and the signs aren’t promising: Brumby doesn’t have a personal web page or a website for his Broadmeadows electorate, and his department’s website is still being reconstructed five months after the election. Meantime, Qld’s interactive Premier Peter Beattie is successfully pitching for IT talent and projects from Victoria.
Local Government, WorkCover and assisting Transport Minister on roads
A plaintiff lawyer who has very big shoes to fill left by Roger Hallam. Is already working hard to undo Roger Hallam’s WorkCover reforms which gave Victoria the second lowest workers’ compensation premiums in the country and a distinct competitive advantage. Bob is already looking at reintroducing the lawyers’ picnic for his former colleagues and the restoration of common law rights looks like costing employers $150 million in the first year through higher premiums. Will face a few tensions with Planning Minister John Thwaites in the Local Government portfolio and sits atop the festering sore that is Labor Party factionalism at council level. Still largely untested as that will happen the WorkCover reforms get into the Parliament during the Autumn session.
Classic bleeding heart Labor MP who has been placed in charge of the big spending Community Services department. Is considered a risk to the government’s financial credibility given her inability to say NO to the disabled and welfare groups beating a path to her door. Offended the disabled last year with a gaffe about the “disabilities” of some state MPs. Curiously, she hails from a Right-wing Catholic faction – the George Pell camp – and is firmly anti-abortion.
Education and Arts
As one senior Labor figure pointed out recently, Delahunty’s major problem is that she has fallen deeply in love with herself since entering politics 18 months ago. Serious question marks surround her ability to run the $5 billion education department. Bracks ignored calls to move her from some of his most trusted advisers and simultaneously broke a promise to Justin Madden that he could have the Education portfolio. She has demonstrated – both in Parliament and the media – an inability to grasp the fine detail of her portfolio or even Labor’s own election promises. The best example being the muck up over the government’s 21-or-less cap on class sizes for prep to grade two. As a former 7.30 Report presenter, she is a polished performer in Question Time, but can’t cover for her lack of detail. Managed to alienate virtually the entire journalistic profession by making it clear she not only believes she was the greatest reporter in town, but that no-one else with a notebook has a clue. It was always going to be difficult given that the journalistic profession has a tendency of eating its own. Look at the way Andrew Bolt on the Herald Sun and 3AW’s Neil Mitchell have torn into Mary.
Refuses to live anywhere near her electorate, sends her children to private schools and has allowed her husband Jock Rankin to take on a key lobbying post as executive director of the Victorian Property Council. Jock reckons “it’s handy” being married to a minister. Maybe Labor should have opted for the alternative high profile candidate to Queen Mary who was available when the Northcote by-election came up in 1998.
Environment and Conservation, Womens’ Affairs
A stodgy performer who has been effectively captured by senior bureaucrats in classic “Yes Minister” style. Last seen opening public toilets in distant national parks, safely out of the public spotlight. Holds the record for unanswered correspondence – apparently some 700 documents are backed up, keeping her very busy.
In theory, her many years on the opposition frontbench should equip her reasonably well for the high wire act of satisfying the competing interests of developers and greenies in the state’s national parks. The early signs are that she will ban development in places like Wilson Prom. Needs to quell violent confrontations between loggers and greens in East Gippsland forests. May yet prove a competent minister – but not a competent bushwalker as she is still best remembered for getting lost during a bush walk several years ago as opposition environment spokesman. Never smiles. Cheer up, Sherryl.
A factional hack who has been exposed by the industrial chaos in La Trobe valley as a ministerial dud. Her lack of presentation skills, both in parliament and the media, are outstripped only by inability to grasp the basics of her portfolio. She was the person who should have been mediating between Yallourn Energy and unions two months ago when it was clear a crisis was looming. She failed to act and is now, along with Bracks, paying a high price.
Was clipped over the ears by Bracks for talking up the prospect of automatic payroll deductions of union dues in the public sector when her Premier had already ruled this out for fears it would spook business about a return to the Cain-Kirner years.
Should not have been allowed in a room with Age reporter Bill Birnbauer two weeks ago. Here are some of the gems from that interview: (“She’s got the job she wanted. Now she’s Victoria’s most senior female politician. So why are they saying nasty things about Monica Gould?” Age, 10/2) “Where’s Monica Gould?” asks Birnbauer. “She is puzzled when asked to describe her characteristics. “Characteristics’ What are my characteristics?” she says. “I dunno. Aah, I like football…”
Police & Emergency Services, Corrections
Spent most of his first three months trying to build bridges with police command, the constant focus of his attacks from the Opposition benches about its relationship with the former government. Pushed through the big ticket law and order election commitment for 800 new officers. Found himself relegated to the sin bin after claiming the government was planning to push ahead with heroin trials without federal government support – a legal impossibility.
The Bill McGrath of the Cabinet – nice bloke but a pretty ordinary performer who really should have retired by now. Labor’s wonderful factional system does throw up such talent nonetheless. Exposed in Question Time in Spring when forced to admit a series of voting bungles occurred in the dairy farmer vote on deregulation. Should be shuffling back to the bush in the first Bracks ministerial rejig.
Attorney General, Racing & Manufacturing
The government’s most eligible batchelor and mad keen Geelong fan. Has learned not to describe backbenchers as oxygen bandits. Still wins the prize for being the Labor MP who lost the seat of Kennedy to Bob (Mad Hatter) Katter. Seems to like doing it on his own, as he’s still yet to sign up a legal adviser – any keen Labor lawyers get your CV in, as he’s sure to hire someone before the next election.
In the law, he is focusing on improving legal aid and access to justice. Big test will be with issues like sentencing and whether he falls for the classic Labor trap of going soft on crims to appease inner-city community law groups.
Trying to change from bovver boy to stunt man as racing minister, which has seen him pictured astride horses at every opportunity. Still, those old headkicking instincts shine in his crash through approach with the racing industry, widely regarded as the nation’s leader. First he says there are too many “old blokes” in racing administration whom he wants to replace with youngsters and women. Then he attacks the VRC’s proposed model for restructuring the industry – after repeatedly saying he wants to work with it to secure a new governing body.
Yet to demonstrate he has adapted from the relative ease of criticising from the Opposition benches to running the show. Has got over a minor case of the sulks after he lost the Gaming portfolio when he apparently barely passed the time of day with anyone for a week. This seems at odds to his Opposition days when Hullsy would gloat he would be Minister for Prosecutions and therefore could not be the Gaming Minister whilst overseeing various Royal Commissions. Maybe he’s just disappointed that the government has gone soft on Crown and the Packers now that Lloyd Williams has retired.
Higher Education, Employment & Training
The Footscray High girl is managing her department well and has won the confidence of senior bureaucrats. Has an eye for detail in what can be a dry and unrewarding area and slapped away some probing Opposition questions in Parliament with detailed responses.
Should be Education Minister. Leads the new batch of University educated Labor women; a social reformer whose pleas for more family-friendly Parliamentary sitting hours were met with derision by Opposition troglodytes. Greatest challenge will be to meet Labor’s ambitious pledge to cut the jobless rate to 5% by the end of first term.
Is learning that promises mean nothing in politics. Justin was adamant he was going to get Education, and said he DEFIANTLY did not want Sport and Rec. He was told when he was ‘pitched’ that Education was in the bag for him.
Goofy may cut it on the footy field but has yet to show he can manage a big portfolio, albeit a good news area like sport. Too early to write off, but faces a major challenge in his second session of Parliament. Got caught out repeatedly in Spring reading from prepared responses to questions. Learn those lines Justin. Good for Labor’s image though, and was a big plus during the campaign.
Gaming, Major Events, Tourism and Lap Dancing
First sighted by political observers at Santa Fe back in 1993, now he’s a Minister John Pantsoffalot is not seen actively participating in lap dancing these days. Packer’s political fixer Richo was first in the door after the election, doing the dance of the seven veils and getting in the new gaming minister’s face about the importance of not shafting our richest bloke. What might have seemed a good news portfolio has soured, and Budget blowouts and terminal Docklands woes are now his life. Questions remain over whether he possesses the depth of vision needed in this role. And does he have a spine when it comes to standing up to the Packers’ Let’s hope so.
Housing and the Aged
Rookie who used the Uniting Church to build a political profile and has performed well, albeit in an area which receives little scrutiny. Winkled a few extra dollars from Treasury which should make her popular with the homeless and public housing lobby. Real test will come if she’s upgraded in reshuffle later in the year.
Wife of Kevin (federal MHR for Wills) who owes her safe Upper House seat and Cabinet spot to years of wheeling and dealing in the backrooms of the Labor Unity faction. Former convener of the Right and close to fixers such as Senator Stephen Conroy and David White. Biggest claim to fame is pulling the recruiting coup of the decade in Justin Madden, but has not made a big impact yet. Has probably met a few small business operators by now but is hardly someone with their best interests at heart.
Health, Planning and Deputy Premier
Regarded as a turncoat by the Save Albert Park crew, pretty boy John Thwaites removed the anti-GP yellow ribbons from his front gate post the day after the election. Was caught out like a frightened rabbit as Acting Premier during the electricity crisis and showed great alacrity in green lighting the Erskine House redevelopment on the Lorne foreshore despite great concern from local residents.
Made his name lobbing grenades at the former government in health and has taken on an enormous workload, forced on him by the lack of seasoned players in Cabinet. Sees himself as Bracks’ natural successor. But was too busy pulling a media stunt a day when acting Premier to recognise and act on the looming Yallourn crisis. Shameless media hussy who loves dragging 2 year old son Jack around town when the likes of Naomi Campbell show up.
Bases himself in Roger Hallam’s old office at No.1 Treasury, leaving Health Dept feeling he doesn’t really want to get involved in the detail of running the ministry. His test in planning will come when he has to decide between heritage/residents’ rights and a major developer.
The clear talent imbalance on the Bracks frontbench means a reshuffle is likely later this year – factions permitting.
OUT: MONICA GOULD
Bracks thought he was being clever putting Monica Gould in a ‘safe’ portfolio – after all, Kennett had legislated Industrial Relations away to the Federal Government, hadn’t he? Wrong! IR is, and will continue to be, a crucial job and Gould isn’t up to it.
OUT: KEITH HAMILTON
Even Jeff Kennett likes Keith – but that cross-factional support won’t save him from the pasture.
IN: RICHARD WYNNE
Former Lord Mayor, current Parliamentary secretary for Justice, and well-connected SL type is likely to be promoted. Bracks may use his experience at the parish pump to take over Local Government; Wynne wrote most of the then Opposition’s policy on the portfolio. He may even be a candidate for Planning. This would allow Thwaites to take on another portfolio – perhaps some time down the track, Finance, if Brumby takes on Treasury, a job he’s doing now in all but name.