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Tony Abbott’s top performers line up for promotion in ministry reshuffle

20 December 2014 178 views No Comment

Tony Abbott has achieved plenty in his first year, thanks to some of his key ministers. Ross Fitzgerald rates them.

This year, despite his many critics, and despite the fact that the federal budget is very much a work in progress, Prime Minister Tony Abbott managed to get rid of the carbon tax, stop the boats, keep his parliamentary team relatively stable, and make considerable progress with infrastructure reform and deregulation.

This was achieved with the aid of some key ministers and of one parliamentary secretary in particular.

The strongest ministerial performer is Scott Morrison, who has more than delivered on a key Coalition commitment , to turn back the boats. He has also held the line over offshore processing of refugees and reached an important agreement with Cambodia about voluntary resettlement in that country, if refugees wish to do so.

The second-strongest performer is Foreign Minister Minister and deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop, who has performed extraordinarily well overseas, and has integrated AusAID and DFAT successfully to co-ordinate Australian policy. As the only female Cabinet minister, Bishop has also been an extremely effective spear-carrier for the government.

Despite his public battle with depression, this year Trade Minister Andrew Robb pulled off three free-trade coups, engineering deals with South Korea, Japan, and China. The latter deal in particular embarrassed the ALP, which said he couldn’t clinch a free-trade agreement with China by the end of this year. Robb also looks like pulling off crucial free-trade deals with India, Indonesia, and the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt has managed to steer through a trifecta of successes. He abolished the carbon tax, got a $2.5 billion Direct Action plan through the Senate and also had passed his legislation for the “green army”. He also fended off some internal opposition to the government’s renewable energy scheme, which involves 20 per cent of energy coming from renewable sources. This means that Hunt now has a credible position from which to move forward.

Although he is still regarded by some as a potential threat to Abbott’s leadership, Malcolm Turnbull has been a strong parliamentary performer and achieved much in relation to the National Broadband Network rollout and to smartening up SBS and, in particular, the ABC. If Joe Hockey were to be moved, or resign, Turnbull would be his obvious replacement as federal Treasurer. However, given Abbott’s strong public support of Hockey, there seems little chance of the current Treasurer being replaced, at least for the first half of next year.

Despite having experienced more than a few hiccups last year, Senator George Brandis deserves praise for leading the government’s response to the domestic security threat and for his crucial anti-terrorism legislation. Moreover, as federal Arts Minister, Brandis is admired and respected in the sector as a passionate advocate.

Singled out for praise by the Prime Minister, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has done some good things in Parliament and with the media. However, because of his close association with the budget strategy, he doesn’t quite make my list.

It’s extremely unusual for someone outside the Cabinet to be one of the nation’s top performers. But the parliamentary secretary to the prime minister with responsibility for deregulation, Josh Frydenberg , from Robert Menzies’ old seat of Kooyong , has not only won the respect of his colleagues, but also of senior members of the federal opposition.

Extremely hard working and media-savvy, in 12 months Frydenberg has taken an issue marginal to the economic debate, namely deregulation, and made it front and centre of the government’s economic narrative. He also played a major role in the success of last month’s G20 summit in Brisbane. This is why I include him in my top seven.

If there is a ministerial reshuffle, Frydenberg’s name emerges as a key person to be promoted into Cabinet.

Others mentioned in dispatches as deserving a possible upgrade include the talented Assistant Minister for Education Sussan Ley and the parliamentary secretary to the minister for the environment, Senator Simon Birmingham, from South Australia.

From the current backbench, the standouts are: Kelly O’Dwyer, the MP for the Victorian seat of Higgins; Christian Porter, the former treasurer of Western Australia and now MP for Pearce; and Dan Tehan, the member for Malcolm Fraser’s old seat of Wannon. Even though in the past I’ve never been a great fan, perhaps the redoubtable Mal Brough, who took over from the disgraced Peter Slipper as MP for the Queensland seat of Fisher, might deserve another guernsey.

But of all those who should be elevated to the Coalition’s Cabinet, Josh Frydenberg has by far the strongest case.

Indeed in the longer term, along with Morrison and Bishop, it seems to me that Frydenberg is a possible Liberal Party leader. If, in a decade or so, he should achieve this position, he could be our first Jewish prime minister.

It seems clear that, of the current members of Cabinet, the Defence Minister David Johnston should get the bullet. Especially in the latter half of this year, his performance was hopeless. Although nowhere near as incompetent, Small Business Minister Bruce Billson and Social Security Minister Kevin Andrews have underperformed.

Although it might be extremely difficult to achieve, there is a strong case for Hockey to be replaced as Treasurer by Turnbull. If this occurs, Hockey should be allocated another senior portfolio.

Professor Ross Fitzgerald has written 36 books, including his memoir, ‘My Name Is Ross: An Alcoholic’s Journey’, which is available as an e-Book and a talking book with Vision Australia.

THE CANBERRA TIMES, DECEMBER 20-21, 2014

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