Guest Notes

Dis-con notes

2 March 2017

3:00 PM

2 March 2017

3:00 PM

The next abbott ministry (part ii)

On November 19 (‘Dis-Con Notes: The Next Abbott Ministry’) I canvassed prerequisites for the Coalition’s electoral survival. These necessitated replacing Malcolm Turnbull with someone possessing the stature to lead the nation and the political capacity to sink Bill Shorten’s Opposition – ‘a hulk so vulnerable that it currently only remains afloat courtesy of Turnbull’s dithering ineptitude’.

To recapitulate: ‘The Liberal Party now desperately needs a leader who can do two things: regain the votes of all [us] “Dis-Cons”… and bind up the wounds within the parliamentary party created by last year’s coup’. Turnbull is capable of neither. Like him or not, only Tony Abbott fits that bill. Regardless, things have now reached such a pass that it is once again (as in 2009) a case of Anyone But Malcolm.

That November article posited an Abbott ministry involving ‘a small number of departures and a few other reshuffles’. Several readers have since asked for more detail.
– First, and sine qua non, both Turnbull and his chief co-conspirator, Julie Bishop must go. The new government need not fear by-elections in Wentworth and Curtin respectively.
– The three surviving ‘Hendy cabal’ members (Senators Sinodinos, Fifield and Ryan) must accept some demotion from their present unduly elevated positions – in Sinodinos’s and Fifield’s case, moving out of Cabinet to join Ryan in the outer ministry. Even so, all three remain as Ministers.
– For reasons given in that earlier article, Treasurer Scott Morrison swaps jobs with the current Minister for Social Services, Christian Porter.
– Two highly experienced people return to Cabinet – Senator Abetz as Leader of the Government in the Senate (displacing Senator Brandis, who is on his way out anyway but who remains, pro tem, Attorney-General), and Kevin Andrews as Minister for Foreign Affairs in Bishop’s place.

Those moves were foreshadowed in that earlier article. I have imposed some other changes, namely:
– The present 22-member Cabinet is too large: reduce it to 20, with the outer ministry, now eight, increasing to ten.
– All current grandiloquently titled ‘Assistant Ministers’ to be traditionally re-designated ‘Parl. Secretaries’.
– Promote Angus Taylor to Cabinet Secretary. On June 11 last (‘Del-Con Notes: After Turnbull, Who?’) I said that ‘among the younger members’ who will constitute the Liberal Party’s future leadership, Taylor, along with Porter and Josh Frydenberg, ‘stand out’. Taylor’s present portfolio, ‘Cities and Digital Transformation’ (for the most part, a Canberra busybody intrusion into the roles of State Premiers), to be discarded.
– With four people (Turnbull, Bishop, Sinodinos, Fifield) leaving Cabinet and four others (Abbott, Abetz, Andrews, Taylor) entering or re-entering it, two others must move to the outer ministry to cut Cabinet to 20. I have nominated Kelly O’Dwyer (who has performed poorly) and Nigel Scullion (whose performance has ranged from poor to abysmal).
– With Scullion’s downgrading, remove Indigenous Affairs from the PM’s portfolio, and move the departmental responsibility out of his Department, where it constitutes a time-consuming distraction from real matters of state.
– Those moves would add four people (Sinodinos, Fifield, O’Dwyer, Scullion) to the outer ministry, increasing it from eight to 12. Since that would exceed the statutory limit of 30 Ministers in all, two of the current outer ministry must make way. I have reduced Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells and newly (over) promoted Ken Wyatt to Parl. Secretaries.
– In turn, with one present Parliamentary Secretary (Taylor) promoted, and two others (Fierravanti-Wells and Wyatt) now included, the Parliamentary Secretary ranks would increase from 12 to 13. While there is no statutory bar to that, I have maintained the current number by dropping the notably undistinguished Member for Ryan (Jane Prentice).

So much for the numbers: as for portfolios, so far as possible I have left them undisturbed; but the various ‘reshuffles’ necessitate some changes:
– Within the Prime Minister’s portfolio, Taylor becomes Cabinet Secretary, Senator Scullion moves out, and Senator Ryan’s role of Minister Assisting the Cabinet Secretary is discarded.
– As Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Abetz heads a new portfolio of Communications and Free Speech, giving him responsibility for the ABC/SBS and also for prosecuting repeal of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Senator Fifield, ceasing to be Minister for Communications, retains the Arts and acquires Sport (previously allied with the Health portfolio), and is now located within Abetz’s portfolio.
– Within the Social Services portfolio, Prentice’s removal means that Senator Seselja adds Disability Services to his responsibilities.
– Senator Cash takes over as Manager of Govt. Business in the Senate.

Finally, the list shows some re-ordering of the ministerial ‘pecking order’, most notably Social Services (now Morrison) moving several places upward. Immigration and Border Protection (Peter Dutton) also moves upwards, while Attorney-General (Senator Brandis) moves downwards.

Let’s return to where we began. The inescapable reality is that, under Turnbull, the Coalition will lose the next election – a loss all the more infuriating because, under Shorten, Labor is eminently beatable. Turnbull is simply no good at politics. As last year’s election campaign showed (in spades!), he lacks both the philosophical drive and the personal energy to knock Labor off the perch to which he has allowed it, by his own inadequacies, to ascend. How much more evidence do Liberal parliamentarians need?

Many will naturally be reluctant to move against their current leader. Someone, however, must summon up the resolution to move for a spill. Continuing inaction, while we Dis-Cons and many other former Coalition supporters watch in despair, simply means that more and more of us will continue the drift towards One Nation.

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