Tony Abbott has announced a major reshuffle of his frontbench as he moves to “reset and refocus” his government for next year, but the opposition has labelled the move “chaotic”.
The prime minister on Sunday announced a much bigger frontbench overhaul than expected, which puts Immigration Minister Scott Morrison into an expanded social services portfolio, and promotes Sussan Ley to the health ministry.
After months of pressure, David Johnston has been dumped as Defence Minister and replaced by Kevin Andrews, whom the PM said was a “safe pair of hands”.
The new frontbench team will be sworn in on Tuesday, and will “reset and refocus the government for the coming year”, Mr Abbott said.
“This is a good team. It is a strong team. It is a balanced team,” he said.
Labor’s Penny Wong was critical, saying the reshuffle marked a chaotic end to the year for the government.
“I think it is a vote of no confidence in the prime minister’s cabinet,” she said.
“You don’t need to have this extensive a reshuffle if your cabinet’s performing well.”
“And the reality we know is the cabinet isn’t performing well, and the government’s not performing well because their policies are bad.”
Greens Leader Christine Milne slammed the appointment of Mr Morrison as Social Services Minister.
“Putting Scott Morrison in charge of Social Services will send shivers down the spines of people across the country,” she said.
“Scott Morrison and the word compassion don’t go in the same sentence.”
However, Mr Abbott said the changes would put jobs and families at the centre of the government’s agenda for 2015.
Peter Dutton moves to Immigration, while Josh Frydenberg has been promoted to the outer Ministry as Assistant Treasurer.
Mr Abbott said he used the resignation of Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinos to have a “significant” reshuffle.
“It is an important opportunity to reset and refocus the government to make the economic debate front and centre next year, to put Scott Morrison into an absolutely critical domestic portfolio,” he said.
The prime minister defended Mr Johnston’s axing, but said “no one goes on forever”
“David has done a fine job as defence minister. He has copped a bit of flack, unfairly,” he said.
The prime minister heaped praise on Mr Morrison, saying he was a master of difficult policy and administration who had all but stopped the boats.
As part of an expanded social services portfolio Mr Morrison will have responsibility for child care and Mr Abbott’s signature paid parental leave scheme, as well as the government’s unpopular welfare reforms.
“He is a very tough and competent political operator but he is also an extremely decent human being,” the prime minister said.
“We need good judgment in these areas and that is exactly what you will get from Scott Morrison.”
The elevation of Ms Ley to cabinet has been accompanied by the promotion of Kelly O’Dwyer and Karen Andrews as parliamentary secretaries, addressing long-standing criticism of the lack of women in the ministry.
Mr Abbott was pleased the number of women on his frontbench had increased, but stressed all appointments were made on merit.
“I am pleased that there is now a second woman in the cabinet. I am pleased that two of the new parliamentary secretaries are female,” he said.
“But in the end, all of our appointments are on merit. As time goes by, and the number of women in the parliament increases, I am confident that there will be more and more women in the ministry.”
In other changes, Steve Ciobo is replacing Brett Mason as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Foreign Affairs Minister and there are three new appointments to the frontbench.
Former WA Treasurer Christian Porter will be the new Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, Kelly O’Dwyer the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer and Karen Andrews the new Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry Ian Macfarlane, who adds Science to his title.
Science was previously split between the Industry and Education portfolios and Mr Abbott has long said Senator MacFarlane did not need science in his title.
But on Sunday, the prime minister said “sometimes it helps if you put these things in the title”.
“I have decided to state in words what I thought was always obvious so it is obvious for everyone,” he said.
“He is now the Minister for Industry and Science.”
Watch Tony Abbott’s press conference below:
– with ABC, AAP