Turnbull mulls ministry

17 Sep, 2015 02:00 AM
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during his first Question Time as PM. Photo: Andrew Meares
The new Liberal leader will need to be very careful about how he spreads the gold
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during his first Question Time as PM. Photo: Andrew Meares

AFTER his spectacular ascent to power this week, new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull must now decide how he divides the gold amongst those Liberals who rewarded him by either supporting or voting against Tony Abbott.

Mr Turnbull has said he expects changes will be made to the ministry with an announcement due by Monday.

“The new Liberal leader will need to be very careful about how he spreads the gold,” said one Coalition source.

Little is expected to alter for the National party with leader and senior Queensland MP Warren Truss expected to retain Infrastructure and Regional Development.

NSW MP and deputy-leader Barnaby Joyce should continue as Agriculture Minister but will be significantly boosted in his outlook leading into next year’s election by the inclusion of Water which he held in opposition and the Murray Darling Basin Authority.

Those added powers will mean he can now push harder to build new dams aided by policy initiatives and funding programs delivered in the Agriculture and Northern Development White Papers released mid-year.

NT Senator Nigel Scullion has been Indigenous Affairs Minister in the Abbott regime and would be likely to continue in that role, if he chooses to under Mr Turnbull, given he is speculated to be reassessing his immediate plans.

Other roles for the Nationals under Mr Abbott include Luke Hartsuyker, Assistant Minister for Employment; Darren Chester, Parliamentary Secretary to the Defence Minister; Michael McCormack, Parliamentary Secretary to the Finance Minister; and Senator Fiona Nash, Assistant Health Minister.

Senator Nash’s strong work implementing programs to tackle the epidemic of the drug ice in regional areas should hold her in good stead to keep that role, while no obvious reason exists to remove any of the others from their positions.

There’s understood to be an internal push on to seek a Parliamentary Secretary role for the Deputy Prime Minister to assist with his extensive portfolio travel requirements and to help engender greater leadership longevity.

Few National party members would be disappointed if Mr Truss’s current Parliamentary Secretary and SA Liberal MP Jamie Briggs is a victim of the upcoming cabinet reshuffle.

National Farmers Federation president Brent Finlay has expressed support for Mr Joyce continuing on as Agriculture Minister under Mr Turnbull and his Parliamentary Secretary Senator Richard Colbeck who is highly regarded by industry stakeholders.

The move of Water into Agriculture from Environment poses a question on whether Senator Colbeck assumes greater responsibility, given his role is currently focused on forestry and fisheries.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Environment Minister Bob Baldwin - who has held responsibility for water following a cabinet reshuffle last December - said it was up to Mr Turnbull to decide whether he would continue serving in the ministry, possibly in a different role.

Several emerging and talented rural Liberal MPs are touted as being in the front running for potential promotions including NSW MP Angus Taylor and Victorian MP Dan Tehan who have both been heavily involved in agricultural policy.

Mr Taylor has been outspoken in fighting Labor’s strong campaign against the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement and is also regarded as a shrewd, strategic economic thinker on agricultural policy, especially market and competition issues.

Mr Tehan was Chair of the Coalition’s backbench agricultural committee before recently being elevated to head up the economics committee, after being tapped on the shoulder by Mr Abbott.

Asked whether he expected any dramatic changes to the ministry in coming days, Mr Tehan said “that is completely and utterly up to Malcolm Turnbull, as it should be”.

Mr Tehan said the Nationals would look after their allocation of ministerial roles and it was the Liberal leader’s prerogative to make appointments for his party, “as it has always been”.

“Malcolm Turnbull has said there will be announcements made by the weekend or Monday on ministries so obviously he’ll take his time with that and give it due consideration, and make sure he gets the right people in the right places to ensure that we govern for all Australians,” he said.

“I was a backbencher under Prime Minister Tony Abbott and what Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull does is completely up to him.

“I just look forward to serving him however he sees fit and I will do whatever he asks of me.

“In my role as Chair of the agricultural backbench committee I worked hard with Barnaby Joyce to ensure we delivered the Agriculture White Paper.

“I was then asked to Chair the backbench economics committee and my view is when the Prime Minister asks you to take on a role you should always agree to it and that’s what I did.

“Sharman Stone (Victorian Liberal MP) has taken over the role as Chair of the agricultural backbench committee now and I know she will do a very good job in that role.”

Other cabinet roles of interest linked to rural and agricultural issues include Trade Minister Andrew Robb, Small Business Minister Bruce Billson, Treasurer Joe Hockey and Environment Minister Greg Hunt.

Speculation has suggested senior members like Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane, Employment Minister Eric Abetz and Mr Hockey could be deposed while others like, Attorney General George Brandis may also be in the firing line.

Mr Turnbull resigned as Communications Minister ahead of his leadership challenge and will also need to be replaced, with significant unfinished work for regional projects.

Current Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher has been highly active in regional areas implementing the mobile blackspots program which improves outcomes for farmers and regional communities and it would not cause any conjecture, if he continued.

Mr Turnbull could also move to introduce more women into senior roles to support NSW rural Liberal MP Sussan Ley who is tipped to remain Health Minister.

On Wednesday, Mr Turnbull said there was "no greater enthusiast than me for seeing more women in positions of power".

WA Liberal MP and former WA attorney-general Christian Porter is currently Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and is seen as another rising Liberal destined for more responsibility, under the new leader.

Mr Billson said that Mr Turnbull - as the “captain-coach” – would get to pick the team and the position they are in.

“I love doing what I am doing with the enterprising men and women of our country,” he said.

“I would love to keep doing that but that will be a call for the new PM.”

Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media


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