Scott Morrison, Australia’s come-from-nowhere prime minister, has suffered a horrific first poll result, as he unveils a ministry with few women and plenty of coal.
In Sunday’s all-important Newspoll, the first since the leadership chaos, popular support for the Coalition dropped to the lowest levels in a decade. Labor gained five points to a whopping two-party preferred vote of 56 per cent to the LNP’s 44 per cent.
Bill Shorten was also crowned the nation’s new preferred prime minister, with 39 per cent support to Mr Morrison’s 33 per cent. This was a gain of seven points for Mr Shorten and a loss of 11 points for Mr Morrison from Malcolm Turnbull’s last number.
Earlier on Sunday, Mr Morrison unveiled a “next-generation team” of ministers that would deliver “stability” and “begin the work of healing” after last week’s damaging leadership saga.
To aid the healing, Peter Dutton, the face of the coup, was allowed to return to Home Affairs. But not without punishment. His ‘super portfolio’ was shrunk, with immigration carved out.
A chief plotter, Tony Abbott, won’t be back on the frontbench, yet. But Mr Morrison is not ruling it out. “I look forward to continuing to engage with Mr Abbott on how he can play a role in those areas, but I fully respect his right to look at these issues as he sees fit,” the Prime Minister said.
A spokesman for Mr Abbott told The Daily Telegraph on Sunday night that Mr Morrison had offered the role of special envoy to the Prime Minister in indigenous affairs.
Mr Abbott’s spokesman was quoted as saying the former prime minister was yet to accept the offer and was “worried about something that is a title without a role”.
The notable absence from the ministry was Julie Bishop, the Liberal Party’s highest-polling name and most senior woman. After Mr Turnbull, she was the biggest casualty of the “madness”.
Ms Bishop announced on Sunday she would quit as foreign minister and go to the backbench, and left open the option of quitting Parliament altogether.
It followed extraordinary reports by the ABC – substantiated by exclusive WhatsApp message screenshots – that key moderate allies voted against her because they feared she could not defeat Peter Dutton.
Simon Birmingham (who takes trade, tourism and investment) farewelled Ms Bishop as the “most significant woman in the history of the Liberal Party”.
Labor’s Clare O’Neil put it differently: “Who would be a woman in the Liberal Party? Their strongest performer, most popular minister and best fundraiser, completely disrespected by a bunch of blokes with half her intellect. Let’s see how they get on without her.”
Mr Morrison was careful to promote two women to cabinet, Melissa Price and Karen Andrews. And he gave foreign affairs to another woman, Marise Payne.
But the Liberal Party’s statistical women problem remained, with 11 female ministers in a total of 40, an almost four-to-one ratio. That’s one more woman than was in the Turnbull ministry.
That other awkward issue for the Coalition – climate change – also reared its head, with journalists querying the split of the energy and environment portfolios.
The man given energy, arch-conservative Angus Taylor, was highly critical of the Turnbull government’s failed National Energy Guarantee, which attempted to restrict carbon emissions.
Because of the difficulty of running the energy portfolio, Mr Taylor’s ‘promotion’ was widely seen as a poisoned chalice. Give the man most critical the task of finding a seemingly impossible fix.
But others worried it was a signal Mr Morrison intended to do little to tackle climate change.
“The obsession with emissions at the expense of reliability and affordability has been a massive mistake,” Mr Taylor said on radio in recent weeks.
When asked if the split in portfolios meant his government would no longer see energy policy through the lens of climate change, Mr Morrison replied: “The challenge we have … is reliability, price, keeping the lights on and getting the prices down.”
Concerns were also raised about new Environment Minister Melissa Price, who has worked extensively in the mining industry.
“Whether you believe so-called climate change is due to human behaviour, planetary motion, ocean currents or solar variability et cetera, to me, is not the point,” Ms Price said in 2015, setting off alarm bells among experts.
The appointments heartened coal-backer George Christensen, a Nationals backbencher, who said he was “looking forward” to “new coal-fired power stations”. And vocal conservative Liberal Craig Kelly said Mr Taylor’s appointment was a “standout selection”.
This perception may not be helped by the fact that Mr Morrison’s chief of staff is Dr John Kunkel, the former deputy CEO of the Minerals Council of Australia and a former Rio Tinto executive.
Also back in the ministry are Sussan Ley and Stuart Robert, who were both booted by Mr Turnbull after scandals. Mr Robert takes Assistant Treasurer and Ms Ley, Assistant Minister for Regional Development and Territories.
It was Mr Robert who resigned from the Turnbull ministry after it was revealed he travelled to China in 2014 to attend a signing ceremony for a mining deal between Australian company Nimrod Resources and a Chinese business – while holding shares, through a trust, in Nimrod.
Then there were the Rolex watches a Chinese billionaire gave him, Mr Abbott and Liberal Party donor Paul Marks.
Ms Ley resigned over scrutiny of her travel expenses.
In another nod to the right, Kelly O’Dwyer, who frequently speaks out against unions and industry super funds, will take the industrial relations portfolio, in addition to jobs and women.
Ms O’Dwyer will give up financial services. Oddly, Mr Morrison announced no replacement, despite the banking royal commission.
Michaelia Cash, on the outside since the leaked raids on the Australian Workers Union, and a key plotter in Mr Turnbull’s overthrow, was further demoted. She lost jobs and innovation, getting small and family business, skills and vocational education instead.
After announcing his ministry, Mr Morrison is off to Queensland to meet drought-stricken farmers, and will then make his first overseas trip as PM to Indonesia, where he is expected to announce an imminent free trade deal.
For now, all is quiet on the conservative front.
But, as Liberal Party elder John Howard warned on Sunday, Tony Abbott “remained unreconciled” to the fact he is not PM.