A ministerial reshuffle yesterday resulted in promotions for the architects of Julia Gillard’s prime ministerial coup, a demotion for a Kevin Rudd supporter and a record number of female ministers in Australian politics.

Former health minister Nicola Roxon will be the country’s first female Attorney-General and Tanya Plibersek will move into the health ministry. Five women now hold positions in cabinet, with two in the outer cabinet.

“Faceless men” Bill Shorten and Mark Arbib have both been promoted, with Shorten now having a “super-ministry” after getting the workplace relations portfolio and retaining superannuation and financial services. Arbib will be Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Small Business, although he remains out of cabinet. Greg Combet also got a “super-ministry” by retaining his current portfolio and also getting the industry and innovation portfolio.

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Crikey‘s Bernard Keane has a breakdown of all the ministerial reshuffling on The Stump. The biggest loser of all this is Labor Left stalwart Kim Carr, who has been demoted from Minister for Industry and Innovation to a new portfolio of Minister for Manufacturing and Defence Materiel, says Keane:

“The knifing of Kim Carr is a dramatic sign of how worried the Gillard camp is about the possible return of Kevin Rudd. Carr has been point man on the most important economic issue facing the government this year, the decline of the manufacturing sector, and has resisted what must surely have been his own personal desire to ramp up assistance and protection. Instead, he has stuck closely to the government’s innovation and skills mantra while helping put together a steel industry plan to accompany the carbon pricing package. Carr has also fought strongly for the sector inside Expenditure Review Committee and saw off looming large cuts to the portfolio in the May Budget.

His reward, it seems, is a knife in the back from the Prime Minister, a notional Victorian factional colleague apparently alarmed Carr has switched camps after strongly backing Gillard’s bid for the Prime Ministership. Carr, however, has plainly refused to go quietly, and retained a ministerial position, albeit outside Cabinet.”

Most of the media commentariat viewed the shuffle as a self-interested move from Gillard to shore up her support in fear of a challenge from Kevin Rudd. As Dennis Shanahan writes in The Australian:

“Whatever the motives in Gillard’s wider than expected reshuffle, it will be impossible for her to dispel the view that part of the reckoning was to head off Rudd and his leadership ambitions. Two of the so-called faceless men who helped Gillard dispose of Rudd — Bill Shorten and Mark Arbib — have been promoted and Kim Carr, a Rudd sympathiser, has been dumped.”

Gillard doesn’t come out of this reshuffle looking any stronger, writes Michelle Grattan in The Age:

“This is a very messy reshuffle that Prime Minister Julia Gillard has announced. She looks like a leader operating from a position of weakness, and she has reinforced negative impressions about her government, despite the fact that some of the people she has elevated will be strong communicators.”

The Australian Financial Review‘s Laura Tingle gave a scathing review of Gillard’s reshuffle, declaring it proof of Gillard’s weak hold over leadership of the party, with good ministers demoted for no good reason (apart from promoting the warlords who designed Gillard’s coup):

“… the nonsensical nature of this self-interested reshuffle is almost beyond belief … The way the reshuffle careered out of control at the weekend has not only left losers angry but raised new questions about Gillard’s judgment among her colleagues, which can only help the person this whole shambles was designed to hold out: Kevin Rudd.”

Not that Rudd was the only target in this reshuffle, says Phillip Hudson in the Herald Sun:

“The Gillard reshuffle is a critical move to counter the influence of Tony Abbott. It is also intended to blunt any recovery strategy by Kevin Rudd.”

The moves highlight Gillard’s own political priorities — disability reform, economic benefits of a carbon tax, education, notes Phillip Coorey in The Sydney Morning Herald:

“But such is Gillard’s burden: this reshuffle bears the hallmarks of a leader under pressure. Typically, a leader with complete authority tells people to go and they go.”

A reshuffle may have occurred purely for Gillard’s own political benefit, but the public will benefit from all this political talent, argues Barrie Cassidy at The Drum:

“It just happens that in so doing she has been able to put some of the government’s better communicators in portfolios where they will be even more effective. That applies to ministers Bill Shorten, Tanya Plibersek, Greg Combet and Nicola Roxon — as good as any Labor has had since the 1980s. It also applies to the more impressive up and comers like Jason Clare, Mark Butler and Julie Collins.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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