Enoch Powell may have observed that “all political careers end in failure”, but after Tuesday’s cabinet reshuffle, it could be more accurate to say “all political careers end in disappointment”.
Victorian National Darren Chester, outgoing minister for Infrastructure and Transport, will be reflecting today on his disappointment at not simply being dumped from the Cabinet, but out of the ministry altogether through no fault of his own.
By all accounts, including testimony of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, he had performed well.
Chester properly declined a parliamentary secretary’s role as inadequate compensation for not being a protected species in the Nationals’ party room: in other words, a Queenslander.
Government anxiety – some might use the word panic — over inroads by Pauline Hanson’s One Nation in rural and regional Australia, and in Queensland in particular, has resulted in cabinet positions being allocated to Queenslanders not on merit, but on geography.
Thus, the little-noticed member for Maranoa, David Littleproud comes into the cabinet as Minister for Agriculture and Water after having not even served in the outer ministry.
Liberal John McVeigh in the Queensland regional seat of Groom enters the Cabinet as Minister for Regional Development, Territories and Local Government. McVeigh has ministerial experience at state level.
What can be said about all this is that regional pork-barreling portfolios now reside with Coalition Cabinet ministers located north of the Murray-Darling basin, and in the case of the Queenslanders north of the Tweed and out beyond the Darling Downs.
Queensland Senator Matt Canavan holds the Northern Australia portfolio, and Darwin-based Nigel Scullion Indigenous Affairs.
National Party Deputy Leader Bridget McKenzie was left to pick up the crumbs as Minister for Sport, Rural Health and Regional Communications.
Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce was on Sky News this morning likening his “captain’s picks’’ to challenges facing selectors of sporting teams. After all, Joyce has sat on the bench a few times in his rugby-playing days.
It is not clear Darren Chester would find this explanation satisfactory. After all, sporting teams would be disinclined to leave their best players on the sidelines.
Joyce denied it, but it is a fact that Chester had displeased his leader by serving as the numbers man for Bridget McKenzie’s selection as deputy leader against the Joycean candidate for the role, Senator Canavan.
On the day after the Turnbull reshuffle the Nationals can’t be said to be one big happy family. Or put another way, to quote Tolstoy, all families are unhappy in their own way.
Squabbling is extending to other players inside the Nationals party room who were disappointed over the allocation of responsibilities with one of those who missed out being reported as threatening to go to the cross-bench.
Turnbull might not have anticipated this level of angst in Coalition ranks over the re-shuffle, but if he believed Chester was doing such a great job he could have done more to accommodate him.
As it now stands, the Turnbull re-shuffle designed to help reset his government for the new year finds itself embroiled in a family argument.
Then there will be disappointments in Turnbull’s own Liberal ranks. While both Michaelia Cash and Kelly O’Dwyer have been given additional responsibilities — Employment Minister Cash has been given Innovation – and Financial Services Minister O’Dwyer given Women – Turnbull has not seen fit to elevate some promising women from the backbench.
What he has come up with is a ministry that tilts right rather than in the direction of greater female representation. As we said, political careers tend to end in disappointment.