Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s new cabinet has been sworn in this morning for what the new prime minister is fond of calling “a 21st-century government”, with fresh faces, old faces in new roles, and a massive overhaul of ministries with a clear focus on the next election.
Turnbull has put innovation front and centre, as many new up-and-coming MPs were promoted to the ministry, while many of the Howard-era ministers were shown the door. Turnbull also announced he would be ditching the title of “parliamentary secretary” in favour of “assistant minister” in order to reflect what the role actually was, and to remove the need for parliamentary secretaries to constantly explain what their actual job was.
Those we are already familiar with but are taking on new responsibilities include former social services minister Scott Morrison as Treasurer, as everyone had predicted; former education minister Christoper Pyne, who is now the Minister for Industry, Innovation, and Science; former assistant treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who is now the Minister for Resources, Energy, and Northern Australia; Jamie Briggs, who is now the Minister for Cities and the Built Environment; Paul Fletcher, who leaves his parliamentary secretary to the minister for communications role for a promotion to Minister for Territories, Local Government, and Major Projects.
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While some have viewed Pyne’s new role as a demotion, Turnbull was quick to talk up the importance of the innovation role in the government.
“Christopher is going to be at the centre, as is the whole government, of one of our most important agendas. If we want to remain a prosperous, First World economy with a generous social welfare safety net, we must be more competitive, we must be more productive. Above all, we must be more innovative. We have to work more agilely, more innovatively, we have to be more nimble in the way we seize the enormous opportunities that are presented to us,” he said on Sunday.
Among the new high-profile ministers is South Australian Senator Simon Birmingham as the new Minister for Education. Birmingham has been in the Parliament since 2007, and under former prime minister Tony Abbott he was the assistant minister for education and training. During his time in opposition, he served on the Senate Environment and Communications Committee. While Birmingham is from a state important to the Coalition’s re-election bid, and he is a close backer of Turnbull, his ideology is closely aligned with that of Turnbull’s new direction for the government.
“We aim to allow each individual the freedom and opportunity to add the ingredients of hard work, innovation and entrepreneurialism so that we may make a larger pie for all people to share and benefit from,” Birmingham said of his party in his first speech in Parliament.
Minister for Communications Mitch Fifield
Victorian Liberal Senator Mitch Fifield becomes Minister for Communications. There were a few names thrown around for this job, including Fletcher, Joe Hockey and Birmingham. Fifield was appointed to the Senate in 2004 replacing the Howard-era communications minister Richard Alston. Since the 2013 election, Fifield had been manager of government business in the Senate and assistant minister for social services. His pick as communications minister is logical in that in the Senate and during Senate estimates, Fifield was the minister representing Turnbull. He is relatively across the brief of a portfolio many have suggested Turnbull will keep a close eye on while prime minister.
This is even more apparent because Fifield is also the minister assisting the Prime Minister for digital government. This suggests that Turnbull’s pet project while communications minister, the Digital Transformation Office, will be a centrepiece of the Turnbull government.
One person to watch in the Communications portfolio will be new Queensland LNP Senator James McGrath, appointed as assistant minister to the Prime Minister. McGrath used his first speech in Parliament to call for the privatisation of the ABC.
“I like the ABC. But while it continues to represent only inner-city leftist views, funded by our taxes, it is in danger of losing its social licence to operate. I am calling for a review of the ABC’s charter. And if they fail to make inroads to restore balance, then the ABC should be sold and replaced by a regional and rural broadcasting service. In the meantime, Triple J, because of its demographic dominance and clear ability to stand on its own, should be immediately sold,” he said.
New South Wales Liberal Senator Marise Payne moves from Human Services to become the first woman to be appointed Minister for Defence, and she will join the National Security Committee. A relatively low-profile Senator, she has worked hard in Senate committees.
Western Australian MP Christian Porter becomes Minister for Social Services. Porter was elected in 2013, but he was previously in the WA government under Colin Barnett as treasurer and attorney-general.
Victorian Liberal MP and often-named as a “rising star”, Kelly O’Dwyer is finally in the ministry as Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Small Business. O’Dwyer’s appointment is interesting in that before Turnbull’s shift to the top job, polling had suggested O’Dwyer could lose the seat of Higgins to Greens candidate Jason Ball. Her elevation to the ministry, along with having a Prime Minister in favour of marriage equality — albeit via an expensive plebiscite after the next election — could potentially save her from losing her seat at the next election.
Western Australian Senator Michaelia Cash is the new Employment Minister, taking over from Abbott-backer Eric Abetz. Cash has been in the Senate since 2008, and has a background in employment law before entering the Senate. She is probably most well-known for her “reaping the spoils” speech in the Senate after former prime minister Julia Gillard was deposed in 2013. Cash is now also the Minister for Women, taking over from former prime minister Tony Abbott.
Conservative New South Wales Liberal MP and party powerbroker Alex Hawke is the assistant minister to the Treasurer.
Australia’s youngest sitting MP Wyatt Roy has been given the role of assistant minister for innovation. Roy, although a Turnbull backer, has spent much of his time in Parliament, along with Labor MP Ed Husic, speaking to the start-up sector. In a recent speech to Parliament, Roy noted the need for entrepreneurs in Australia.
“We need policies that will see changes in our culture so we can have a new generation of entrepreneurs prepared to take on risk, policies that will see more capital invested in our start-ups and policies that will ensure cooperation between government and higher education on commercialisation of those ideas. If we do this, we have a very bright future,” he said.
Defence Materiel and Science and Special Minister of State Mal Brough
Key Turnbull backer Mal Brough has been rewarded becoming Minister for Defence Materiel and Science, and Special Minister of State. Brough, a former Howard government minister who lost his seat in the 2007 Labor landslide, won against former Liberal MP and speaker Peter Slipper. Brough’s return to Parliament was controversial given his role in bringing to light the so-called “Slippergate” scandal, involving former Slipper staffer James Ashby. In 2014, Brough revealed he had asked Ashby for copies of Slipper’s diary to prove he had dishonestly used $1000 of Cabcharge vouchers to pay for cars to visit wineries around Canberra. Brough, who came back into Parliament on the back of an entitlements scandal, is now the minister responsible for entitlements.
New South Wales Liberal MP Peter Hendy in the marginal electorate of Eden-Monaro, who helped organise the leadership challenge for Turnbull, has been made the assistant minister for productivity. Hendy told the ABC his role would be to continue the government’s red tape reduction program and to advise the Prime Minister on tax reform and competition policy.
Before entering politics in the 2013 election, Hendy was a former Liberal staffer, including for Peter Reith, and former leader Brendan Nelson. He was also the CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry between 2002 and 2008.
Fiona Nash is the Minister for Rural Health, and Ken Wyatt is the assistant minister for health. Darren Chester is the assistant minister for defence.
Those staying the same include Nigel Scullion as Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Greg Hunt as Minister for the Environment, Warren Truss as Deputy PM and Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, Peter Dutton in Immigration, Julie Bishop as Foreign Minister and Deputy Liberal Leader, Andrew Robb as Trade Minister, Michael Keenan as Justice Minister, Mathias Cormann as Minister for Finance, Sussan Ley as Minister for Health, and Concetta Fierravanti-Wells as the assistant minister for cultural affairs.
George Brandis keeps the role of Attorney-General, but as my colleague Ben Eltham writes today, after a fairly controversial time with the Arts portfolio, it goes back to be tied in with the Communications portfolio under Fifield. The Arts portfolio was split off from Communications, where it had been since 1994, when Kevin Rudd became prime minister in 2007, and the portfolio was given to Peter Garrett along with Environment. Although he loses Arts, Brandis has been rewarded for backing Turnbull in the leadership challenge by becoming the leader of the government in the Senate. He takes that job from Abbott-backer and arch-conservative Eric Abetz.
A surprise loser from the shake-up is Bruce Billson, the former small business minister. Newly appointed cabinet secretary Arthur Sinodinos told ABC News Breakfast this morning that the always upbeat Billson was offered Briggs’ job for cities, but he turned it down because he wanted to retain small business. Turnbull decided that small business should sit in with Treasury, which is why that portfolio was given to O’Dwyer along with the Assistant Treasurer role. Billson, however, remained upbeat, tweeting happily from his family dinner and wishing his colleagues well.
That’s in stark contrast to Kevin Andrews, who called a sudden press conference before Turnbull’s ministry announcement to complain about being sacked as defence minister and pay tribute to Abbott. Joe Hockey is the first to announce he will be leaving Parliament — he is expected to get the plum job of ambassador to the United States — but more will surely follow in the days and weeks ahead.