You have to hand it to the Prime Minister — he sure likes making things complicated.
There’s no doubting talent won out in Saturday’s reshuffle of the lower depths of the ministry, even if factional allegiances don’t seem to have been entirely absent either. But it brings about some of the more peculiarly complex administrative arrangements seen in Canberra for a while.
For starters, Chris Bowen and Nick Sherry — both of whom were performing strongly — have more or less swapped jobs, with Bowen entering Cabinet and taking superannuation (an area that Sherry has made his own) and corporate law, as well as the entirely unrelated Ministry for Human Services, which Joe Ludwig gave up to move to John Faulkner’s previous role as Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary. Sherry takes Bowen’s spot as Assistant Treasurer. But Bowen’s area of competition policy — where he had aggressively pushed improvements to the TPA — has been given to Craig Emerson, who has acquired a good reputation among deregulatory types, but whose performances in Parliament don’t fill anyone with great confidence.
It gets more complicated. Brendan O’Connor, having avoided botching the controversial new employment services tender, gets a promotion to Bob Debus’s old job of Home Affairs. Debus has shown just how much of a team player he is, having moved into Federal Parliament and taken a fairly demanding ministry at the end of his career and then readily moved aside for The Kids to come up. Mark Arbib takes O’Connor’s employment role while keeping his current job of overseeing service delivery, meaning he now works under both Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. Arbib will have western Sydney MP Jason Clare, rated as an up-and-comer (he hosted the one-year anniversary ALP fundraiser last November), for a Parliamentary Secretary.
Warren Snowdon comes out of Defence and moves to Health, kinda, as “Minister for Indigenous Health, Rural and Regional Health and Regional Services Delivery” (as opposed to Arbib, who is just “Government Service Delivery”. Ostensibly in Nicola Roxon’s portfolio, Snowdon will have to work closely with Jenny Macklin as well, since she has carriage of the Closing the Gap agenda, and it also seems like Snowdon will have some work to do for Anthony Albanese in the Infrastructure portfolio.
But wait, there’s more. Greg Combet enters the Ministry and returns to Defence, but he also stays with Penny Wong on Climate Change. This positions him perfectly for the crucial “War on Carbon” that Kevin Rudd will surely one day declare. Presumably the thinking there is that the CPRS negotiations will be finalised one way or another in the coming months.
And then there’s Kate Ellis, who keeps her current job, which is split between the Health and Education portfolios, but gets Maxine McKew’s early childhood stuff and childcare as well. McKew moves to become Albanese’s Parliamentary Secretary. As if in response to the success of Kate Ellis — from the SDA/Catholic wing of South Australian Labor — former SA Left leader Mark Butler also gets a Parliamentary Secretaryship, replacing Jan McLucas in Health.
Spare a thought for Jan McLucas. She and her staff crafted a very good aged care policy in the lead-up to the 2007 election and developed a good relationship with the sector, only for McLucas and her advisers to be moved aside for Justine Elliott once in Government. The possibility of more revelations about travel expenses, however, meant Rudd was in no mood to spare her.
As I noted last week, Bill Shorten seems to have been forgotten about. That could be why he’s joined the swelling chorus of former union leaders in the Parliament telling his erstwhile colleagues to pull their heads in. But he’s also got the bushfire recovery effort, which is not something Rudd will want to see attract bad headlines.
In the last days of the Keating Government, Laurie Brereton ran both Transport and Industrial Relations. The arrangement of splitting a minister between major departments was seen as odd at the time, and it was very much the exception, not the rule. Now half the ministry’s working to more than one department.
At least there won’t be much chance of bureaucratic capture…