Dec 13, 2011

A dumb reshuffle puts spotlight back on Gillard’s woes

Julia Gillard's federal cabinet reshuffle -- promoting Bill Shorten and Mark Arbib while sacking good ministers -- again demonstrates her lack of judgment and fragility.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

Is this the most nonsensical, craven, plain dumb reshuffle ever devised by a prime minister? It's hard to recall a worse one. There was one of John Howard's when he gave Wilson Tuckey a junior ministry -- but Howard was a prime minister with authority, political nous and a firm grip on his party. Julia Gillard has none of those things. A bare two weeks ago, Labor had real momentum. It had finished the parliamentary year on a high with the Slipper coup and the mining tax bills through the House of Reps, put the seal on Gillard's "year of decision and delivery". Attention was turning to Tony Abbott's relentless negativity and his need to change his tactics over the summer break. Some were talking about the need for a reshuffle of the Coalition frontbench. But in that time Gillard has brought Labor's momentum to a halt and wrenched the political spotlight back onto her tensions with Kevin Rudd and her own lack of authority and judgment. All of it has been unforced and unnecessary. No one made Gillard omit Rudd from her conference speech. No one forced her into being rolled by her own faction on gay marriage. And Nick Sherry's departure could have been dealt with via a minor redistribution of responsibilities. Instead, there's yesterday's mess, only necessary if you ignore the 700 words of pointless blather about the economy from the prime minister with which she introduced the reshuffle yesterday and agree this is all about rewarding Bill Shorten and Mark Arbib and punishing those considered less than enthusiastic Gillard supporters. There are a couple of good points. Shorten will do a better job in industrial relations than Chris Evans. Shorten has improved in parliament since he was first promoted into the ministry, when every trip to the dispatch box induced chortling mockery from the opposition benches. Business might find that its incessant bleating about the need for IR reform, untainted by actual evidence of any kind, meets a sterner response now than it did from Evans. Nicola Roxon probably can't be much worse as attorney-general than Robert McClelland. Mike Kelly is back in Defence where he belongs. But the creation of a super-portfolio of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education under Greg Combet -- because Shorten couldn't get something without Combet getting something -- is unbalanced and unlikely to improve the government's focus on any of those portfolio issues. Arbib has been given significant additional responsibilities despite displaying no remarkable talent as minister for sport. Robert McClelland's make-work cabinet portfolio of "emergency management" is risible. Were they even trying when they came up with that? Then there's the treatment of Kim Carr, hitherto the key minister on the most significant domestic economic issue facing the government, the impact of the resources boom on manufacturing. Despite his own strong views on industry assistance, Carr oversaw measures that avoided the blatant protectionism now being espoused by the opposition and the government interventionism being demanded by manufacturing unions. His reward after a difficult year is a humiliating demotion, dispatched to the outer ministry with a bodgied-up role as minister for manufacturing and defence materiel. He'll probably come into the ministerial wing one day and find his office has been moved down into the basement. Shabby stuff from Gillard. But what impresses about the reshuffle is not its ineptitude and grubbiness so much as the lack of authority displayed by Gillard. This is so obvious, she may as well have created a ministry "for ministers I can't sack" and stuck McClelland, Carr and Evans in there. Peter Garrett too, according to rumours. Having decided to wield the knife, Gillard appears to have been discombobulated when ministers declined to politely turn their backs so she could stick the blade in, or their factional protectors intervened. The result is a bloated cabinet of 22, permanent testimony to Gillard's lack of authority. Nor does the reshuffle address the government’s two long-term problems – the tension between Gillard and Rudd, and its inability to convince voters of its economic credentials. At the centre of the latter is Wayne Swan’s lack of cut-through, despite being an excellent treasurer. When Lindsay Tanner was finance minister, he could play the attack role traditionally required of the treasurer. Penny Wong is a nonentity in the role. The only threat she poses to opponents is putting them to sleep. Together, Swan and Wong mean the opposition -- despite being frighteningly incompetent on economics -- is winning the argument right from the start. Nor is there anything to cause Rudd to lose any sleep in yesterday's events. If anything, he'll be encouraged by a display of fragility and poor judgment from the prime minister. It's as if, having stoically endured all manner of adverse conditions throughout the year without flinching, Gillard has stumbled the moment the pressure finally came off. Abbott must be unable to believe his luck.

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203 thoughts on “A dumb reshuffle puts spotlight back on Gillard’s woes

  1. Mike Flanagan

    Your usual anti- Gillard rant Bernard! Been having a bottle or two of
    good red with Dennis Shanahan have you?

  2. Chris Graham

    Excellent analysis from Keane as usual. One addition: The leaking of the ALP report to damage Rudd was the beginning of the new slide for Gillard. So very, very stupid. In fact if I didn’t know better, I’d suggest Rudd himself did it. That’s how dumb it was. After the carbon tax and the mining tax, I’d thought Labor had finally started to gain some momentum, and the spotlight was shifting to Abbott and his gargantuan failings. No more. This government is dead in the water.

  3. Oscar Jones

    Again I believe you exagerate Bernard and like too many journos are too close to the action. This and the Slipper stuff will be forgotten by the electorate by next January and this was the time to make changes.

    It’s a relief McLelland as AG has gone-he was a shocker-but Gillard couldn’t have demoted or promoted just one without bad feeling. A re-shuffle was the only option.

    This government will not rise or fall on just one minister like Carr.

    Again the media is obsessed with matter that are of little interest or importance and ignores major stories of importance like John Howard’s disgraceful promotion of a dodgy anti-climate change propaganda book aimed at school children which if the left had done in his day would mean all hell would break loose.

    I despair that every movement Labor makes in office whether important or insignificant is examined in the minutest detail while we have an Opposition leader who worships at the feet or Howard who could one day be PM.

  4. Gavin Moodie

    I understand that balance and bias is in the mind of the beholder – even Maurice Newman acknowledged this in remarks upon his departure from the chair of the ABC board. But I would have thought that this would have been even more obvious to Crikey posters who one day criticise Keane for being anti Labor while forgetting that yesterday he was criticised for being anti Abbott.

    Keane’s point is all too depressingly true. However, universities are pleased that research and higher education are returned to the same portfolio and vocational educationalists are pleased that vocational education remains with higher education in the tertiary education portfolio.

  5. PK93

    More anti-gillard self-righteous scribbling from Bernard Keane

    “It’s as if, having stoically endured all manner of adverse conditions throughout the year without flinching”

    Wow! Can you point me to the columns (rants?) throughout the year you’ve acknowledged that?

  6. Tricot

    Take a pill and have a lie down sport. Two days in a row with this huff and puff and you are about to burst a boiler.

    I can’t remember a time in living memory when a PM with such a paper-thin majority had “authority”. Talk about state the bleeding obvious. You get paid for writing such insightful comments like that?

    You really think 99% of those out in voter land either know or care?

    I am happy to make a prediction that in two (one) day’s time, this “dumb reshuffle” will be resonating along with the Peter Slipper matter wrapping up the rubbish for the bin.

    PS – Kim Carr is on the lips of every voter – not!

  7. Gavin Moodie

    Comrade Carr may not be well known in the electorate but he was a very effective minister for science. It is the loss of Carr’s engagement, commitment and skill as minister of science that will be missed.

  8. HB

    oh Bernard – if it wasn’t for the dog I would seriously consider leaving you

  9. The Pav


    For example when Misty Rabbit accuses Gillard of backstabbing none of the compliant journos ever ask the question on how he got to be Leader of the Opposition. The obvious question to Abbott is that if he thinks Rudd is after the PM why doesn’t he give a few tips, after all he’s an expert

    I am very anti Abbott. Not because I am pro Labour but because I want to vote Liberal but the party has been taken away from moderates like me. The simple articles of decency, fairness & reasonableness no longer exist in the party and a culture of if you’re not for ne you’re against me exists.

    For some crazy reason they have taken the Rupublican Right as a model.Gawd help us

    I feel the press do not challenge Abbott & his cohorts for fear of being branded “lefties”. The current leadership of the Liberals and their supporters regard balanced commentary as that which totally supports them.

    Look how often Crikey is branded leftist yet strong articles rebuking Gillard such as this one are legion.

  10. Filth Dimension

    Wow and I thought Michelle Grattan had been hitting the juice lately. Bernard you don’t have to drink the peanut gallery kool-aid.

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