The
pressure exerted on Senator Hill by the Prime Minister over the past months has
hardly been a secret and nor has his motive. Hill has flatly resisted all
Howard’s representations which have included a number of attractive inducements. More
recently, Howard made Hill’s position intolerable and it became New York or nothing.

Howard
understands the need to be seen to be refreshing his Ministry, particularly
amongst long serving Cabinet members. Robert Hill’s departure is necessary at
this time if Howard is to achieve his objective and Hill is to receive
compensation for facilitating it.

Why did
Hill of all people have to go? The answer is to be found in the fact that he is
in the Senate and he is one of the original Cabinet members. One of Prime
Minister Howard’s great strengths is that he rarely makes the same mistake
twice save for his appalling judgment in the women he appoints to the Ministry.

The virtue
of Senator Robert Hill’s resignation is that it opens up a Ministerial vacancy
for a Member of the House of Representatives without the need of a by-election.
Howard will not have forgotten his experience with, as coincidence would have
it, his last Defence Minister.

In a
similar situation, Howard sought to refresh his Ministry by pressuring then Defence
Minister John Moore to resign. Depending
upon whether one believes Howard or Moore, Moore was to be accommodated if he
stepped aside from the Defence portfolio. The absence of satisfying Moore’s understanding of matters saw him resign not only
from the Ministry but also from his safe Queensland
seat of Ryan.

The
consequence of this rather inconvenient turn of events culminated in a blue
ribbon Liberal seat falling to Labor along with the ongoing damage that it did to
the Howard government leading up to the next election. Claims of “mean and
tricky,” combined with politically necessary but economically irresponsible actions such
as freezing the CPI component of the federal excise tax on petrol were but part
of the fallout.

The Prime
Minister will not replace Hill’s Cabinet vacancy as distinct from his portfolio
from within the Senate but rather will fill it with a Member of the House of
Representatives. His hand is strengthened by the fact that South Australia is over represented in the
Ministry and particularly at Cabinet level.

Andrew Robb
will be promoted into the outer Ministry, however, in all probability, Malcolm Turnbull
will not be elevated to the Ministry: not the least reason being the
considerable anger in the party room if two new boys are both promoted. Howard
presently has the position of Consul General in Los
Angeles available but it will certainly not be
offered to any House of Representatives casualty.

The
sackings of Senators Patterson and Macdonald will also allow Howard new
Ministerial blood without the fear of by-elections.

Patterson’s sacking is long overdue. She is
hopelessly incompetent and should never have been promoted beyond the back
bench. Her original Senate pre-selection was the product of the Liberal Party’s
foolish excursion into affirmative action.

Patterson
was preselected upon the resignation of Dame Margaret Guilfoyle entirely on the
basis of gender. Her promotion to Health was in large measure due to the strong
advocacy of her predecessor, former Health Minister, Michael Wooldridge

Patterson
will in all likelihood be replaced in Cabinet by Julie Bishop.

Howard will not reduce the number of women in
Cabinet although he had no hesitation in dropping Vanstone when he promoted
Jocelyn Newman. Vanstone was only reinstated to the Cabinet when Newman
resigned.