The most bizarre appointment in Kevin Rudd’s new cabinet is that of Victorian Senator Jacinta Collins, promoted from a parliamentary secretaryship under then-PM Julia Gillard to a cabinet position, as the new Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, under Rudd. Collins bested Kim Carr last week to secure the deputy leadership of the government in the Senate.

Collins has had a couple of stints in the Senate, from 1995 to 2004, when as number three on the Victorian Labor ticket she fell victim to Stephen Conroy’s disastrous preferences ploy that saw Steve Fielding elected and replace Collins in 2005. She returned when she took Robert Ray’s spot in 2008.

Collins — not to be confused with Tasmania’s Julie Collins, also promoted to cabinet — is best known to the public for her dislike of cabs, after she was appalled to discover there was no Commonwealth car waiting for her at Melbourne Airport in 2009.

Those who follow reproductive health and gay rights issues, however, know Collins for other things.

Collins is from the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association and holds the social views one expects of a Shoppie: she is stridently anti-abortion and a diehard opponent of same-sex marriage; “stable, biological parenting” should be fostered “as a social norm” she said in reference to the same-sex marriage bill last year.

Less than a fortnight ago, Collins helped vote down a bill recognising overseas same-sex marriages. During her time out of the Senate, Collins was a director of the anti-choice Caroline Chisholm Society, which is currently run by former Shoppie and Collins adviser Helen Cooney. Collins was at the society when it was controversially funded by then-health minister Tony Abbott to establish a pregnancy counselling service. Collins was a winner last year of an award for “Christian Values” from the “Christian Values Institute”.

All of that would normally be incidental: Labor has several former Shoppies and there are many politicians with the same views across the Parliament; one Kevin Rudd is a former winner of the “Christian Values Award” as well. But Collins is now in charge of mental health, which raises some of the same concerns as when Tony Abbott was health minister; it will be interesting to see whether Collins draws the same criticism from the Left about her views as Abbott did (and still does). Many in the anti-abortion lobby — although not the Caroline Chisholm Society — claim without any evidence that abortion causes mental health problems for women, including “post-abortion syndrome”, a condition invented by anti-abortionists.

In particular, in mental health Collins follows Mark Butler, who did an excellent job in the portfolio. Butler oversaw expanded funding for the Reconnect homelessness program, components of which specifically address gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and intersex youth. He also funded the National LGBTI Health Alliance to run a suicide prevention and mental health program. Butler is understood to have locked down funding for a number of programs before his promotion.

It’s hard to see Collins, given her view that same-sex marriage is a “distraction” and that traditional Labor voters believe children should be raised by a mother and father, not having a big problem in engaging with major portfolio stakeholders or eliciting trust on issues like mental health among gay youth.

Collins’ promotion also illustrates that Don Farrell, the South Australian ALP Senator and Shoppie powerbroker, has lost little of his power despite opposing the return of Rudd, whom Farrell bitterly opposed as party leader in 2007 and whose removal Farrell helped coordinate in 2010. Farrell, who became Minister for Sport in the outer ministry today, is every bit as hardline on social issues as Collins.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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