After Health Minister Sussan Ley fell on her sword over the travel expenses controversy, it is curious that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s small cabinet reshuffle would promote two men with their own share of controversies in her place.
As had been widely predicted overnight, Turnbull announced on Wednesday that Greg Hunt will replace Ley as Health and Sport Minister, while Arthur Sinodinos will take over Hunt’s former portfolio of Innovation, Industry and Science.
Just days ago, the Herald Sun reported that Hunt had charged taxpayers more than $20,000 for trips for himself and his family to Queensland, including five trips to Noosa and six trips to Hayman Island during more than a decade in Parliament. This is significantly less than the estimated $40,000 Ley had spent on trips to the Gold Coast, and as far as has been reported, Hunt did not buy any investment properties, but it raises questions as to why Hunt’s trips were not considered to render him an unfit replacement for Ley.
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Arthur Sinodinos, a trusted operator within the Coalition and a close confidant of the Prime Minister, also has a messy past because of his appearances at ICAC over both the NSW Liberal Party laundering donations from property developers and his time at Australian Water Holdings. As Fairfax’s Kate McClymont notes, although there were no findings made against Sinodinos or expected to be made against him in either matter, his failure to act in either incident and his poor memory in ICAC hearings will likely haunt him as Labor targets the new Innovation Minister.
Turnbull said that Sinodinos’ role as cabinet secretary would go back to the public service in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, reducing the size of the Turnbull cabinet by one.
The other limited changes made to the Turnbull cabinet include appointing Ken Wyatt as the assistant minister for aged care and Minister for Indigenous Health, making Wyatt the first indigenous person appointed to a Commonwealth ministry.
Conservative rising star Michael Sukkar has also been appointed as assistant minister to the treasurer, but any conservative desire for a Tony Abbott return to cabinet has been dashed.
The changes mean one less woman in Turnbull’s cabinet, and Ley is the only one to have been punished for her expenses claims, while other senior ministers, including Peter Dutton, Mathias Cormann and George Brandis, have had their own controversies over the past few weeks over expenses.
At some point, too, you have to wonder, what dirt does Brandis have on those in power in order to save himself for as long as he has? Many had been predicting Brandis might go in an early 2017 reshuffle by the PM, and yet he remains. The Attorney-General has more ministerial stuff-ups than any of his colleagues, he has misled Parliament, and there are still questions around his actions regarding the Bell Group High Court case still yet to be answered and more hearings over what he knew and when still to come. But London’s calling, so the fifth reshuffle in 18 months might not be that far away.