Dennis Shanahan gets the politics of a reshuffle spot on in The Australian today:
John Howard has to grab the opportunity Robert Hill’s
departure provides and introduce new, if not younger, talent and give
the cabinet new life and perspective.
If Mr Howard is not going to revamp and recast the senior levels of the
Liberal leadership through his own departure then he must do so by
promoting talent and simultaneously challenging and stretching the
existing senior core of the Coalition.
In just a few weeks, Mr Howard will have been Prime Minister for ten
years. Peter Costello and Alexander Downer have been in their
portfolios for the same period.
Voters can quickly come to the conclusion a government that has been in
power ten years is old and worn out. It doesn’t take much for the idea
that it is time for a change to take hold and, once it does, it is
Fortunately for Mr Howard, there is no shortage of potential ministers
on his back bench. The challenge for him is to make way for them and
give appropriate new jobs to proven performers…
But is Malcolm Turnbull one of them? Elsewhere in the Oz, Elizabeth Colman
reports: “Malcolm Turnbull poses a dilemma for John Howard as the Prime
Minister finalises a reshuffle designed to bring new blood to the
ministry. Mr Turnbull’s hostilities with Peter Costello… has (sic)
raised eyebrows in the Coalition… Nonetheless, most insiders believe Mr
Turnbull’s promotion is inevitable – not least because it would
restrain his temptation to speak out.”
That’s yet another ghastly sign of bureaucratic capture and policy
atrophy – a Scylla and Charybdis for a ten-year-old government Shanahan
omits to mention.
Turnbull has only been doing his job – and doing it very well.
Backbenches are supposed to have ideas. Just because most don’t doesn’t
mean they can’t. If a government starts benchmarking against members
that are thicker, lazier or preoccupied, then it’s in trouble.
A seat in the House of Representatives is a fantastic bully pulpit. The
research and advice available from the hard-working staff of the
Commonwealth Parliament Library is excellent – and they appreciate a
There is no excuse for more members not to do what Turnbull has done.
The Member for Wentworth hasn’t just spoken out on tax. He’s dealt with
basic electorate issues, like public transport. Here he’s had an
excellent adviser, former lord mayor of Sydney Lucy Turnbull.
And that’s what Turnbull’s done. He has simply maximised his resources
– and his advantages – to do his job. Good on him. Turnbull is pushing
his own barrow, but good things come off it.
A quick glance at two features in the last few days – Peter Saunders in this morning’s Australian or an absolute cracker on Costello from Josh Garnaut in Monday’s SMH – tells you what a mess our tax system is.
And if you’ve ever wondered why the bus trip of a couple of hundred
metres from the Bondi Junction Interchange to Bondi Road takes longer
than the train trip from Martin Place, you’ll appreciate the fact that
there’s an MP who uses public transport.
There’s an argument that it would be healthy for the Government to keep
Turnbull on the backbench so he can continue to speak out.
What would be healthier is to promote him to reward him for ideas – and
then to see him continue to speak out. There are too many moribund
ministers. It would be good to see someone put that bully pulpit to
use, too – because you can.
Cabinet solidarity has its limits – as does the groupthink of
bureaucrats. Ideas are the lifeblood of governments. From time to time
they need transfusions. Go Malcolm!