John Howard understands the importance of symbolism. He showed that back in January when he reshuffled Amanda Vanstone out of his ministry and George Brandis in.

To appease South Australians concerned at having a minister from their state replaced with a Queenslander, the PM invented a new category for his government hierarchy called Assistant Minister and gave the title to Adelaide’s own Christopher Pyne.

Whereas the Australian federation had started simply with ministers, all eight of them, there were now to be Cabinet Ministers, junior ministers, assistant ministers and parliamentary secretaries – 42 in all.

So much, you might say, for smaller government, but the four tier structure is staying in place after the need to replace the Queenslander Santo Santoro as a Minister saw Mr Pyne move up a level to become the Minister for Ageing.

This time it was Queensland that had to be appeased with a bestowing of the Assistant Minister title on Teresa Gambaro and another Queenslander, Senator Brett Mason, getting a parliamentary secretary gong.

Assistant Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries do not get a wage rise to go with their titles but there is the benefit of extra staff. That becomes important in an election year when every body counts and nowhere more so than in South Australia and Queensland which are both key states.

Prime Minister Howard will be hoping that the tokenism of the Assistant Minister and Parliamentary Secretary titles, plus the extra staff, make Messrs Gambaro and Mason in to good campaigners.

They will need to be because the Queensland Liberal Party appears to be a very fractured body. There are factions feuding with each other and the prospect of a further embarrassment to come from the Federal police investigation in to the use of printing allowances by backbenchers.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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