The political silly season officially ended at 11:45 this morning when John Howard walked into the Ministerial Courtyard at Parliament House to announce the election year Cabinet.

Out is the hapless and ham-fisted Amanda Vanstone, former kids TV host Gary Hardgrave and parliamentary secretary Sandy McDonald. Arts Minister Rod Kemp, who is not standing for re-election this year, has also been dropped from the ministry.

Environment Minister Ian Campbell has been demoted to the Human Services portfolio, a non-cabinet post.

Malcolm Turnbull is the big winner, promoted to Cabinet as Minister for the Environment and Water.

The colourless Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews goes to Immigration. Joe Hockey will now have the challenge of selling the WorkChoices reforms and their impact in the lead up to the poll.

Andrew Robb enters the outer ministry as new Minister for Vocational and Further Immigration, while George Brandis becomes Minister for the Arts and Sports.

Wooden-headed Nationals non-entity John Cobb has been dumped as Minister for Community Services and replaced by Country Liberal Party senator Nigel Scullion, from the Northern Territory. Amazingly, he remains on the frontbench as Assistant Minister for the Environment and Water Resources.

Chris Pyne becomes Assistant Minister for Health and Ageing.

“I’ve given a great deal of thought, as you might expect, to this new line up,” the Prime Minister told the presser. “I think it is strong without in any way reflecting the adversity or performance of people who have held other portfolios.

“I think it is an effective concentration of the fire power of the prominent people within the government.

“I believe the inclusion of some new blood in the outer ministry combined with some of the more seasoned players who have been around for a while provides an extremely good mix.

“The next election will be a very tough one for the government that is something that I have acknowledged for a long time and I acknowledge it again.”

The Prime Minister has denied that his Government is running out of steam. “I would have thought a government that’s running out of puff is a government that’s scared to make big changes,” he said.

“I would have thought running out of puff is when you don’t make difficult decisions, rather than the reverse.”

Peter Fray

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