With an end-of-year reshuffle due after parliament rises this week, public servants will be busily preparing new minister briefing packages so that ministers can get their feet under the desk before the summer break.
Who’s in and who’s out? We’ll find out in due course, but here’s a form guide to what a reshuffle based on merit and political smarts might scoop up.
Intended to be a placeholder for the government’s response to the aged care royal commission when it made its report, that idea went to hell when the pandemic erupted and ripped through two nursing homes in Sydney and then through much of the private aged care sector directly regulated and funded by the Commonwealth in Victoria.
Hundreds died as a result of an out-of-its-depth regulator and a minister with no standing within the government. Watch for Morrison to insert a close ally to craft the government’s response to the royal commission in the 2021 budget.
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Like Colbeck, Fletcher is a modest minister with much to be modest about. In the Communications portfolio mainly as an errand boy for the PMO, Fletcher mostly spends his time attacking the ABC, sending cheques to News Corp and devising ever more absurd media policies.
The energy minister now looks like an impediment to a government that increasingly feels the need to pretend it believes in climate change. Openly at war with state colleagues on climate action, including Liberals in his own home state, the scandal-plagued climate denialist could pay the price for an attempted climate “reset” — even if only rhetorical.
It surely hasn’t escaped notice within the government that Home Affairs has, for years now, been the least competent, most scandal-prone department, with a long list of major bungles, often with tragic consequences.
The Dutton to Defence rumour has been around so long as to invite deep scepticism, but it would solve significant problem for Morrison. Defence is where senior ministers’ careers go to die — few are the ministers in the last 30 years who have returned from Russell Hill; those that have were usually relatively junior before promotion.
On the other hand, would you trust the man who has “run” Home Affairs in recent years with an even more massive department, with a budget with another two zeroes on it? Only if a competent and active defence industry minister were dispatched there as well, which brings us to…
We know Price spends most of her time in witness protection, but has anyone heard from the Minister for Defence Industry? Does anyone want to hear from her? With the new submarine program in an uncontrolled drift to the bottom of the ocean, a competent minister is needed to get the program back to rights and provide some public reassurance that we’re not wasting even more tens of billions of dollars than we were already wasting building these things in Adelaide.
The rising talent
The former head of the WA Liberal organisation and now Morrison right-hand man will be elevated, though his perceived competence may be punished by being given one of the more toxic policy messes facing the government.
Hastie has been the best chair of the intelligence and security committee in this government — and there have been a few. Indeed, that might count against him given he has been prepared to push back against the overreach and incompetence of Peter Dutton and the Home Affairs department on national security. But when Hastie speaks on national security matters, he does so with more authority than anyone else more senior.
Having lost Corangamite, Sarah Henderson has been given a new lease on political life in the Senate, where she has diligently applied herself to bucketing her former employer the ABC. Watch for that to be rewarded in a government where Michaelia Cash was hilariously promoted in order to avoid drawing attention to the Coalition’s persistent lack of female representation.
Saying the Nationals are thin on talent is a statement of the blinding obvious; one of the few talented Nats, Darren Chester has been taking a hammering for 18 months on behalf of Scott Morrison in the veterans’ portfolio because the PM stolidly rejects the idea of a royal commission into veterans’ suicide.
The promotion of Chester back to the senior levels he occupied in 2017, before he was done over by Barnaby Joyce, would provide a useful addition of competence.
As for Joyce, can he transition back from barking mad videos to a ministry? Problem is Barnaby Joyce is an accused sexual harasser (he denies the claims) and his party has never bothered to resolve those allegations.
After what Four Corners revealed about the antics of senior ministers, what kind of message would a return for Joyce signal?
What are your picks for a cabinet reshuffle? Let us know your thoughts by writing to [email protected]. Please include your full name to be considered for publication in Crikey’s Your Say column.