With the 45th Parliament about to be elected, who would make it into a national government composed of all the parties based on their performance over the last two and a half years? Crikey runs the ruler over the performers and underperformers on both sides to see if we can put together a quality war cabinet.

Prime Minister: Malcolm Turnbull (Lib)

Well, there’s three to pick from, if you count Tony Abbott, but he can safely be ruled out. The electorate still prefers Malcolm Turnbull, despite his Prime Ministerial popularity and authority rapidly diminishing. Bill Shorten has improved significantly in recent months — since Labor’s national conference last year, in fact, despite murmurings about replacing him after Turnbull’s elevation. But Turnbull, on his day, remains a better communicator, and the lingering feeling is that if he can shake off the skeletal grip of the far-right dead-enders in his party, he’ll be a stronger and better leader. Needs a stronger chief of staff, but.

Treasurer: Chris Bowen (Lab)

No competition, really — Joe Hockey was dumped and Scott Morrison has consistently shown he’s out of his depth, while Bowen has led a strong economic and fiscal policy effort from Labor. Plus, the beard. (Assistant Treasurer: John Williams, to put absolute, mortifying terror into the banks.)

Foreign Minister: Julie Bishop (Lib)

As one of the few competent ministers of the Abbott and Turnbull governments — except when George Brandis’ bureaucrats dump her in it — Bishop has kept a reasonably firm hand on foreign policy at a difficult juncture in the region, leaving no room to be upstaged by Tanya Plibersek.

Finance Minister: Mathias Cormann (Lib)

The standout minister of both the Abbott and Turnbull governments, so good he was punished for his competence by being given a second job for much of the last three years. He has a Terminator-like ability to stay on-message and actually uses Twitter to talk to people.

Defence Minister: Stephen Conroy (Lab)

A Melbourne Cup field from the Liberals, with not one, not two, but three different candidates. Marise Payne has made a reasonable start in the portfolio, but Conroy has been in the portfolio for three years and acted as de facto communications shadow for much of that time as well while prosecuting Labor’s war on the government’s ever-changing submarine plans. Plus, what better place to put one of the most truculent members of the Labor team than a portfolio devoted to fighting?

Immigration Minister: Peter Dutton (Lib)

What a choice — a clueless minister or a shadow minister who’s spent much of the last three years in hiding, with both supporting the same disgraceful policy that has produced systematic abuse of detainees on Nauru and Manus Island. It’s much of a muchness, but at least retaining Dutton would save Mike “it’s all the media’s fault” Pezzullo’s staff from having to write an incoming minister brief. (Assistant Minister — Sarah Hanson-Young, both for humanitarian purposes and for the look on the faces of Wilson Security executives when they realise they can’t spy on her anymore.)

Attorney-General: Mark Dreyfus (Lab)

The alternative is George Brandis. ‘Nuff said.

Industry Minister: Christopher Pyne (Lib)

A tough call. It’s the battle of the protectionists, yet somehow one gets the sense that if Pyne didn’t hold a marginal South Australian seat, he wouldn’t be anywhere near so interested in propping up Australia’s inefficient manufacturing sector as he claims to be, whereas Labor’s Kim Carr absolutely believes in manufacturing to the very core of his being and beyond. Pyne gets the nod on the basis that he’s less likely to do much damage to a market economy.

Trade Minister: Penny Wong (Lab)

Andrew Robb is a loss from politics; he might have given us the terrible blight of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but he was too rare among the ranks of his colleagues in being willing to speak up for foreign investment. His departure leaves us with the so-far ineffectual Steve Ciobo, and Penny Wong is too talented to omit from the top tier of politics at the moment.

Minister for Infrastructure: Anthony Albanese (Lab)

Albo has been remorseless in pursuing the government over infrastructure issues and the collapse in infrastructure investment since 2013. He owns infrastructure in a way we haven’t seen in a major portfolio for years. (Assistant Minister: Darren Chester — that rare beast, an intelligent, moderate National, who will go on to achieve good things.)

Health Minister: Sussan Ley (Lib)

You have to recall 2014 to understand how well Ley has done in Health — she has turned what was a disaster area for the government under Peter Dutton into a neutral space in which Labor, which traditionally owns health, has been unable to score the easy, almost effortless points that impressive Victorian MP Catherine King managed when Dutton was bungling about. Ley’s enthusiasm for giving a boot up the backside to multinational pathology companies lately gets her the gig. (Assistant Minister: Greens leader Richard Di Natale, just to send the anti-vaccination wingnuts into a fury.)

Education Minister: Simon Birmingham (Lib)

We’re unabashed fans of Birmo. He’s only relatively new to the job, and has been saddled with an unresolved higher education policy and a school funding imbroglio that is out of his hands to resolve. But he’s smart and hard-working and watching him try to sell the Coalition’s education credentials in an election campaign where Labor is focusing its fire on the issue will make for interesting viewing.

Employment Minister: Brendan O’Connor (Lab)

Tough call. Unemployment is basically at the same level as when the government was elected in 2013. And the only movement of substance has been on the Australian Building and Construction Commission and the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. In both cases, the government has pursued bad policy for political ends, which means Brendan O’Connor — never the most compelling or high-profile of ministers — gets the gig ahead of Michaelia “makes innocent face at mention of ‘penalty rates'” Cash.

Communications Minister: Jason Clare (Lab)

Nothing to do with current minister Mitch Fifield’s performance, which has been perfectly acceptable since his elevation. He’s not the one who has buggered the NBN up; that was Malcolm Turnbull. Australians will pay for that for decades to come. Clare, who rarely troubles the scorers in political or policy terms, gets the gig.

Environment and Climate Change Minister: Mark Butler (Lab)

Having someone who is actually willing to do something to protect the environment and take action on climate change would be welcome change from junior resources minister and Parliament’s reigning Hollow Man, Greg Hunt. Fun fact – did you know Mark Butler is ALP President? Did you know anything at all about him?

Minister for Agriculture: Bill Heffernan (Lib)

So the New South Wales Senator isn’t going around again, and his loss from committee work will deprive us of many colourful exchanges in estimates, but we’d like to appoint Heffernan — who has long been Parliament’s most informed and thoughtful expert on water — minister for five minutes to elicit Barnaby Joyce’s Deep Purple impersonation.

Mentioned in dispatches:

  • Tony Abbott to have a parliamentary leadership role on the indigenous recognition process. In fact, we reckon that without Abbott, there’s a real chance the process may end in a historically disastrous defeat. His goodwill and commitment in this area can’t be faulted, and it would provide a major legacy for a former prime minister.
  • Labor’s Anthony Byrne for chair of an overhauled and more powerful joint committee on intelligence and security, with underrated South Australian Liberal David Fawcett deputy chair and Greens Senator Scott Ludlam and independent Andrew Wilkie joining it.
  • Jenny Macklin for social services.
  • Sam Dastyari to lead a permanent committee on taxation.
  • Speaker? Tony Smith can keep the gig. After Bronwyn Bishop, a MacBook programmed to yell “order!” and “the member for Wakefield will remove himself under 94A” would have done the trick, but Smith has settled in fine.

Peter Fray

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