Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has the chance over the Christmas break to reassert his authority, revitalise his government, revive the failing economy and restore Australia’s dismal foreign relations. All he has to do is eliminate the dead wood from his cabinet and appoint those best qualified for the job.

To do this effectively, of course, he will need to adopt the unconventional, but by no means unprecedented, strategy of appointing ministers from other parties. This has worked well elsewhere. Switzerland, Fiji, Northern Ireland and various African countries have all had federal cabinets comprising ministers from various parties.

The first to go, of course, must be Scott Morrison. No other treasurer in Australia’s history in his first 15 months in the job has overseen:

  • GDP growth plummeting from +0.8% to -0.5%;
  • interest rates cut to an all-time low;
  • wages growth falling to a record low;
  • his 2015-16 deficit blown out by $22.8 billion from Joe Hockey’s budget forecast two years earlier;
  • deficits set to blow out by $10 billion above what was already estimated; and
  • gross debt up a staggering $79,303 million.

The obvious choice is the man who steered Australia through the worst global downturn in 80 years, collecting multiple accolades along the way: Wayne Swan.

The distinctive contribution Mathias Cormann has made as Finance Minister is his colourful foreign accent. Swapping him for Doug Cameron retains this but adds actual financial acumen.

Defence does not need two senior ministers at a time of unprecedented peace and regional stability. One will do. But it demands one with military experience, intelligence and grit. Replace Christopher Pyne and Marise Payne with Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Wilkie.

Julie Bishop has been a total failure as Foreign Minister as evidenced by her multiple gaffes, fractured relationships with neighbours and Australia’s record trade deficit. The obvious alternative is the darling of the global community, Senator Penny Wong.

With Australia’s trade deficit now in a record streak of 22 months below -$1200 million, Steve Ciobo has been a complete dud as Trade Minister. As this portfolio requires both negotiation skills and personal charm, Nick Xenophon is the stand-out candidate.

Three different people have been tried in Industry, Innovation and Science — or Industry without innovation or science, as it was under Tony Abbott — and all have failed. Kim Carr has the runs on the board.

Attorney-general demands someone with an intimate knowledge of the law — from both sides of the prison walls. Exchange the scandal-prone George Brandis for Derryn Hinch.

On the basis of his PhD thesis Work to Rule: Rethinking Marx, Pashukanis and Law, Greens MP Adam Bandt should nudge out Michaelia Cash in Employment.

Infrastructure: replace the invisible man in the job now with London Infrastructure magazine’s 2012 infrastructure minister of the year. You don’t know who that is? You mean the newspapers didn’t report it? Anthony Albanese.

The prescription for Health and Aged Care is a medical practitioner with wide experience beyond the surgery: Richard Di Natale.

Any of the indigenous MPs will be an improvement on Nigel Scullion in Indigenous Affairs: Linda Burney.

Immigration and Border Protection calls for international diplomacy plus toughness tempered with compassion: Tanya Plibersek.

Agriculture: out with Barnaby Joyce, in with Lisa Chesters, a country girl from Queensland.

Social services: replace whoever is currently failing in this critical job with Kate Ellis.

Environment: swap Josh Frydenberg for Larissa Waters.

Education: exchange Simon Birmingham for Tony Burke.

Deputy prime minister requires careful thought. Clearly, in the spirit of bipartisanship it should be someone from across the dispatch box. The woman with years of experience as deputy leader is Jenny Macklin.

Yes, there will be rumblings from some of Mal’s malcontents who have lost their perks. But this is where his leadership will shine through. He must simply stare them down and declare unflinchingly, “Ministerial appointments are now on merit. No one competent from our side of the Parliament has been excluded.”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey