She’s pulling no punches today. You’ll laugh and you’ll gasp at Hillary’s interpretation of John Howard’s pre-Christmas reshuffle.

The one clear lesson the Government learned from its first few tentative steps back in 1996 was that if you want to carry out major reforms in a sensitive area, don’t choose Incredible Bulk Amanda Vanstone to do the job.

No, the real agenda for now until the election is clear bash the bludgers and beat the drums.

Putting a proven incompetent with the emotional range of a piece of two-by-four and an ability to sympathise that rivals a house brick into Family & Community Services shows that serious commitment to welfare reform has gone out the window. Presumably all we can expect is the further extension of “mutual obligation” to quadriplegics, the unborn, the over 90s, etcetera, etcetera backed up by barks from the Bulk but little more.

The Bulk would still like to pretend that she is a moderate yet the way she has maligned, say, boat people from Iraq (We were in a war against their dictator, Amanda. Do you remember that? Or were you out on the red?) betrays the divisive, hard-line approach she will take pushing public prejudice against easy targets. Promoting the “job-snob” bashing Mad Monk to Employment Minister only reinforces that this is the new agenda.

That’s bash the bludgers. And beat the drums? Will the Living Dead, Peter Wreath, experience a political resurrection in the Defence portfolio?

If if the Government gets all the big ticket items it promised in the Defence White Paper and if an even bigger if it wins the next election, there will be lots of good photo ops for old Wreathy as the AWACs fly in. We mightn’t be able to support our troops in the field and have no recruitment strategy other than spending up on TV ads, but the new big boys’ toys will go down a treat with the camera crews and commercial TV news directors. They will look good for the Government, be hard for the Opposition to criticise and might well improve his standing but two nasty facts will remain.

Firstly, Wreath has had an almighty fall down the Cabinet ladder. He wanted Industry and got Defence. Check where that stands on the rankings well below both his old job and the one he so publicly pitched for. And fact number two? The hard yards have been done in Defence. The Minister doesn’t matter much. Work in the portfolio is finished just like Wreath is as a future leader. The PM recognised that fact today. The Monk has been set up as the rival to Costello.

Quite how far the Monk gets with the task he has been drafted for is another matter. The Rodent’s release claims “his philosophical commitment and impressive advocacy skills make him superbly well equipped to further develop the Government’s industrial relations reform agenda”.

Really? It’s clear whose golden boy he is but the Dems will enjoy dealing with him on IR in much the same way as the Pope would enjoy a weekend in Vegas with Marilyn Manson.

That’s the Cabinet changes. And the outer Ministry?

Well, the new token Tasmanian, Eric “Erica” Abetz, Special Minister of State, is notable only as a stand out right wing fruit-and-nut bar even in the Howard Government.

New Minister for Employment Services, Mal Brough, is justly famed for is justly famed for is famed, er, justly, er, for for check back in April, will you. Oh, yeah. His brother Bob hosted Family Feud for a while that must count for something.

Ian Macfarlane might be a former head of the National Farmer’s Federation, but unlike most of the RARA brigade he is smart enough to realise that people who chose to live in Antarctica shouldn’t complain of the cold. Small business people are a prickly lot at the best of times. His senior Minister, the Monk, is as diplomatic as a blitzkrieg. Given his background Macfarlane should be able to build a rapport with a key Coalition constituency already alienated by the GST and getting wobblier and noisier as threats of an economic slowdown loom.

Chris Ellison will bring his usual somnolent style to Justice and Customs.

Bronny should count herself lucky that she still has a job. The Little Fella was keen to see the back of her but knew he had to buy her off and that giving Bronny a diplomatic post anywhere would be tantamount to a declaration of war.

Brendan Nelson, the new Parliamentary Secretary for Defence, has won a pyrrhic promotion if there is such a thing. He’s stuck in limbo between the back and front benches in about the only portfolio areas he’s had nothing to say about and will be obliged by convention not to stray. If the Prime Miniature wasn’t such an obvious git one might almost say this appointment betrayed a sense of humour.

The real surprise is the promotion of Christine Gallus to Parliamentary Secretary for Reconciliation. Gallus is a pinko, even by the standards of the South Australian left. Of course, we still need to wait a see if she is allowed to actually accomplish anything before we know if the PM’s recent tentative steps away from the “poison the waterholes” approach to Indigenous affairs is genuine.

Finally, one unlikely person has become a real winner from the reshuffle beleaguered Queensland Premier and Hillary fan Peter Beattie.

His Government is a virtually dead cert to fall over on the floor of Parliament early in the New Year yet, as Monday’s Newspoll showed, the pathetic pair of “Revolting” Rob Borbidge and “Disastrous” David Watson aren’t picking up any support.

Now that John Moore is retiring, the inevitable preselection sh*tfight in his much-stacked seat of Ryan won’t help. Neither will the fact that there are now no Queenslanders in the Cabinet or the fact the Queensland junior minister will be squabbling to claim the spot on their divided state executive as Federal Parliamentary rep or, indeed, the fact that “Slippery Pete” Slipper is inconsolable over not being promoted and about to throw an almighty sulk.

The Queensland Libs and, indeed, the Queensland Coalition is already a disaster areas. This will split them even further. It’s very smart politics for the Little Fella to have made these moves in the state where he holds the most marginal seats and where the next election will be.

So Merry Christmas to you all.

Your favourite political insider, HB