Kevin Rudd’s new Ministry has a familiar feel to it. As promised, it hasn’t shaken up the Canberra bureaucracy too much, so that the pencil pushers can hit the ground running – well, sauntering – with the ALP agenda. Accordingly, it looks a lot like a rebadged Howard ministry. Expect, in 2009 or perhaps after re-election in 2010, a more fundamental restructuring.

As everyone is already pointing out, Julia Gillard will be very busy. She’s been given a super-ministry across Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, like the type preferred by Bob Hawke in the mid-80s, later abandoned by Keating. But this will be a massive workload for someone without ministerial experience.

Peter Garrett and Penny Wong also share a wide range of responsibilities across Environment, Heritage, Arts, Climate Change and Water, but they’ll be in different departments. It looks like a recipe for dysfunction. At least if it fails, “Garrett and Wong” can be used as a cop-show premise.

But elsewhere, portfolios haven’t changed much. Anthony Albanese gets Pork-barrel Central, the Transport and Regional Services portfolio, with Infrastructure tossed in to complicate the name (this is definitely NOT an acronym-friendly ministry). Mumblin’ Martin Ferguson and Kim Carr split the Industry, Tourism and Resources portfolio, with Science tossed in. Tony Burke takes AFFA, Chris Evans takes Immigration and Stephen Conroy takes Communications.

Nicola Roxon gets Health and Ageing, and already looks the weakest link. Commonwealth Health doesn’t have the operational responsibilities of State departments, but it is a vast bureaucracy with poor quality staff led by a very ordinary SES. The lightweight, economically illiterate Roxon will struggle to master the mix of strategic and program challenges there, although not being obsessed with furthering a religious agenda will be a good start. Her selection probably indicates that Rudd will adopt his predecessor’s tactic of running Health from the Prime Minister’s Office. Much of the COAG work in the health area has been done, to the chagrin of Health officials, by Prime Minister and Cabinet, and with health likely to be at the bleeding edge of Rudd’s new approach to federalism, this seems unlikely to change.

John Faulkner’s eminence grise role has been confirmed in his role as Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary. Under Howard, the Cabinet process was complicated by ever more absurd Impact Statement and costings demands. With any luck, Faulkner will impose a more results-focused process. But Kevin Rudd’s passion for benchmarking, KPIs and other managerialist bullsh-t doesn’t augur well on that front.

What really interests public servants, though, is which Secretaries will lead which departments, and that remains a mystery as yet. There are plenty of bureaucrats who are hoping Labor breaks its promise to honour existing contracts. After eleven years of systematic politicisation of the Public Service, there’s considerable interest in seeing those most responsible for it dispatched without mercy. But Rudd might fancy putting them through a few hoops before he decides which ones to cull.

Peter Fray

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