Premier Paul Lennon has used the Ken Bacon “resignation” due to “ill
health” (he was pushed out, insiders insist) to carry out a
mini-reshuffle that denies oxygen to internal rivals and capitulates to
the Opposition’s calls for smaller government. Lennon has avoided
giving Labor rising star David Bartlett any extra air, by splitting the
portfolio vacated by Bacon between two existing ministers: tourism has
gone to Education Minister Paula Wriedt and the Left has also got
something – Judy Jackson will take on the heritage portion, adding to
her environment and A-G responsibilities.
This is a scalp, on two counts, for Opposition leader Rene Hidding, who
has been (along with the Greens – and the tacit approval of an
embarrassed tourism industry) calling for tourism and heritage minister
Bacon to go for weeks. The Liberals also recently announced that they
would cut back the Cabinet, if in government, saying that the current
Labor set-up was bloated.
And just quietly, another low-profile minister, Jim Cox, has been
gently relieved of one of his portfolios – employment – to concentrate
on “Racing, Sport and Recreation” (an area in any case that is seen
partly as Paul Lennon’s natural fiefdom, given his strong personal
links to the racing industry).
Lara Giddings, economic
development minister, has been handed the added responsibility. Seen by
some as the weak link in Labor’s Franklin team, Employment has probably
been given to Lara to help beef up her profile and give her some more
“good news” to smile about at regular intervals, as Tassie’s job
numbers continue to grow on the back of the burgeoning national economy.
Interestingly, nowhere in his media release announcing the reshuffle
yesterday does the premier say Cox should concentrate on his other
portfolio, Finance. That’s because it’s a non-portfolio. Paul Lennon is
the treasurer and holds a very strong whip hand on money issues.
Stripping Cox of Employment is probably smart, with the Budget
Estimates process coming up soon. It was in the Government’s Business
Enterprise (GBE) hearings recently that Ken Bacon made his first big
stumble under questioning from the Opposition’s Rene Hidding and the
Greens. Labor’s hardheads have apparently taken a stern look at Cox and
decided he may not be up to the scrutiny of the Estimates process on
the employment area.
And with an election looming, Labor could hardly afford any more
stuff-ups clouding the good news spending promises that the upcoming
Budget heralds. Cox, of course, rose to notoriety in 1989 as the
new-elected Labor backbencher in the Rouse Bribery Scandal who was
offered a $110,000 bribe by then-Tasmanian media magnate Edmund Rouse.
The bribe – which Cox did not accept – was to cross the floor and vote
with the Liberals in the State Parliament, in order to prevent the
Labor-Green Accord being formed.
Check out The Mercury’s coverag here.