Special Minister of State John Faulkner will move to the Defence portfolio to cover the resignation of Joel Fitzgibbon, the Prime Minister announced this afternoon.

Faulkner was a junior minister in the Defence portfolio in the Keating Government, and with Simon Crean is the Government’s most experienced minister.

Further changes to Cabinet would be announced in coming days. However, the role of Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary, which Faulkner has filled with aplomb, appears tailor-made for Senator Mark Arbib, currently Parliamentary Secretary in the Prime Minister’s portfolio overseeing service delivery and particularly the stimulus package rollout.

Faulkner may be the one minister whose integrity and experience are such that he will be impervious to the leaking and undermining that appear a core part of life at the top of the Defence Department. Faulkner also has sway within Cabinet, although he is not close to the Prime Minister.

Faulkner gradually acquired his reputation for probity and forensic prosecution of accountability over Labor’s long years in Opposition, using Estimates with Robert Ray to repeatedly embarrass the Howard Government. Defence, however, will be a test of Faulkner’s policy and political skills in the long-term implementation of the Government’s Defence White Paper and the shorter-term challenges of Australia’s involvement in the Afghan conflict.