Tony Abbott followed in the footsteps of Julia Gillard’s ministerial cabinet reshuffle last weekend by announcing his own rejigged lineup yesterday. Meanwhile most of the country was preoccupied with the big, meaty news stories of the day.
Abbott’s new shadow ministry looks very much like the old one; for a complete who’s-who check out Bernard Keane’s post on The Stump.
In response to the government’s decision to divide its education portfolio into several departments (with Peter Garrett in charge of Schools, Early Childhood and Youth and Chris Evans heading the BER program) Abbott promoted Queensland senator Brett Mason into the new role of spokesman for universities, joining Christopher Pyne who remains shadow minister for Education, Apprenticeships and Training.
The biggest change Abbott made was returning Malcolm Turnbull — the former opposition leader he replaced — to the front bench. Turnbull will take over Communications.
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Abbott has ditched Tony Smith as Communications spokesman, moving him to tax reform and the Coalition Policy Development Committee. Sharman Stone, Steve Ciobo, Louise Markus and Joanna Gash are, using the parlance of Patricia Karvelas from The Australian, the “dumped four shocked MPs” who were stripped of their previous roles.
Karvelas’s analysis came under the headline ‘Tony Abbott reveals ‘hungrier’ front bench,’ the story accompanied by a photograph of Joe Hockey looking at Andrew Robb as if he were a beatnik who slipped past security. As Karvelas noted: “Mr Abbott has avoided making major changes to other senior positions, keeping Joe Hockey in Treasury, Andrew Robb in finance and Julie Bishop in foreign affairs.”
Given the Coalition’s narrow election defeat, some argue it is in their best interests to keep the team more or less the same. In the Sydney Morning Herald, Phillip Correy described Abbott’s choice of shadow ministry as one that has “placed a premium on stability” and that “Mr Abbott kept in place the team that almost won him the election”.
Over at The Age, Michelle Grattan responded much more harshly, viewing the reshuffle as a massive missed opportunity:
“Tony Abbott has taken the easy — and loyal — path in putting together his new frontbench… The choice was between keeping intact the remnants of the old regime from government days or finally putting the Howard years behind the Coalition. Abbott hasn’t been able to make the break.”
Grattan went a step further, arguing the Coaltion now looks “like an interim shadow ministry”.
Back at The Australian, Dennis Shanahan soberly observed that “Abbott’s reluctance to go further with the re-order of his economic team has been cited by some colleagues as a missed opportunity”.
But the lion’s share of the shadow ministry news went to Turnbull. According to Adelaide’s The Advertiser, Turnbull is “expected to strongly challenge Labor’s proposed National Broadband Network company” and “Mr Turnbull’s return marks the end of a tumultuous period in the wilderness”.
Lenore Taylor at the SMH believes the bar may have already been set too high for the reinstated, formerly knifed Lib, especially given the key role Labor’s NBN ultimately played in this year’s federal election. “Tony Abbott has made sure to set expectations for Malcolm Turnbull’s new frontbench job so high they will be difficult — maybe even impossible — to fulfill,” she wrote.
The Daily Telegraph’s Malcolm Farr says Turnbull’s return to shadow cabinet marks two important steps: one “the comparatively mature relationship he has with Tony Abbott”; and the other “the definite move by Abbott to pull the NBN plank from under the government, upsetting its economic credibility and claims of competence.” Grattan predicted that broadband policy will become a “bitter battleground”.
On the same day government ministers were officially sworn in, hand on Bible and faces frozen in photo-friendly smiles, Labor also generated considerable press — and not much of it positive. The government made some bungles in the announcement of its front bench, particularly the portfolios of education, indigenous health and competition. Paul Kelly’s assessment was damning:
“The weekend ministry announcement had been a shambles. Nobody carried the title of education minister, nobody carried the title for competition policy and nobody the title for indigenous health, all of which were specific titles in the previous government. Each of these is supposed to be a priority. How could they be overlooked? How could the government fail to provide proper explanations when the list was initially released?”
Frank Zumbo at The Punch took a different and more personal approach, coming one stop short of accusing Labor of spoiling his weekend:
While enjoying a nice Saturday afternoon news came through that Julia had announced her new ministry… Alas, there was no specific mention of competition on the list of portfolio responsibilities. Nor was there specific reference to consumer affairs on the portfolio list.