It seems the drama surrounding the selection of Labor’s opposition frontbench, the people who will only ‘shadow’ the government ministers in the re-elected Coalition government, has diverted our attention from the people appointed by the PM to the ministry.
However we shouldn’t let the distraction of Labor’s factional antics stop us from giving scrutiny to the Coalition MPs who’ll actually be running the country for the next three years.
Even a cursory examination suggests Scott Morrison’s new ministry is only a hairsbreadth away from what could be the first of a rolling succession of ministerial disasters.
It should be remembered that, unlike his Labor counterpart, PM Morrison is essentially able to appoint whoever he chooses to the ministry.
Yet a Coalition PM must still juggle a number of competing interests when assembling his ‘captain’s pick’ ministry.
First there’s the Nationals, the junior party in the Coalition. The Nats get a proportion of seats in the ministry depending on how many seats the rural party has in the parliament.
After losing a seat in the recent election, the Nationals also lost a seat in the cabinet.
This outcome has led to much grumbling of it being a failed leadership test by the party’s less than inspiring leader, Michael McCormack. (We can hear you, Barnaby).
The PM also has to divvy up the ministerial spoils in a way that achieves a good balance between the states and territories, the two chambers of parliament (House of Representatives and Senate), and the less formal but still ferociously competitive factions of the Liberal Party.
On top of that, Mr Morrison probably wanted to have as many women on the frontbench as Labor. (He failed.)
Regrettably for him, the PM’s determination to take the number of female cabinet ministers to an all-time high led to his appointment last year of WA Liberal and former mining industry executive, Melissa Price, as environment minister.
Ms Price wasted no time ensuring her PM regretted the appointment, almost creating a diplomatic incident by reportedly telling the former president of Kiribati she knew why he was visiting Australia.
“For the Pacific it’s always about the cash,” Ms Price is reported to have told the foreign dignitary, adding “I have my chequebook here. How much do you want?” How good was that faux pas?
Following this near disaster and poor performances in Parliament, the hapless environment minister was put into witness protection during the election campaign.
And even though Mr Morrison committed during the campaign to keep her in the role, Ms Price was shunted to the outer ministry in the ScoMo Government 2.0.
She is now the minister for defence industry, the portfolio that hands out eye-watering amounts of taxpayer dollars to defence contractors.
What could possibly go wrong?
Speaking of disasters waiting to happen, one of the newer faces in the ministry is Stuart Robert, whose only positive credential seems to be that he’s a good mate of the Prime Minister.
Mr Robert resigned from the Turnbull ministry in 2016 following reports that he’d unofficially attended a business event in China (for a friend), at which the participants got the impression he was actually the Turnbull Government’s representative. (He was not.)
Mr Robert is also currently associated with two investigations.
One is for his sky-high internet bills, paid for by the taxpayer.
The other is being conducted by the corporate regulator, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, which is looking into claims that Mr Robert had direct financial links with a company that was awarded government contracts.
Now he’s back as the assistant minister to the Treasurer. I kid you not.
PM Morrison has appointed eight out of 30 women to the ministry, seven of which are in cabinet – this number remains the all-time high number of women in cabinet.
There are also three more female ‘assistant ministers’, bringing the total number of women in his ministry to 11.
Meanwhile Labor’s caucus has selected 12 women for Anthony Albanese’s first ‘shadow’ ministry, although the Opposition leader demanded that one of the male MPs make way for the 12th woman, Kristina Keneally.
Nevertheless, the PM shouldn’t be worrying whether he got the number of women right in his ministry, although this is no minor matter.
He should be worrying about the number of train-wrecks waiting to happen in his hand-picked ministry.
At least Anthony Albanese will be able to blame the caucus for selecting a dud frontbencher if one of Labor’s team turns into a disaster.
When the first ministerial disaster unfolds on the government side, Scott Morrison will have only himself to blame.