Attorney-General George Brandis will become Australia’s high commissioner to London in a ministerial reshuffle set to be announced on Tuesday.
Brandis’ appointment opens the way for Malcolm Turnbull to elevate deputy Senate leader Mathias Cormann to Senate leader, and gives the Turnbull government a cabinet vacancy.
But it leaves Turnbull with the problem of being seen to have adequate representation from Queensland in the cabinet. A Queenslander will have to be elevated, but the choice is limited and there is no standout candidate.
Queensland is a vital state for the Coalition at the next election.
While Brandis is a Liberal, the Nationals have been agitated for months about the need to boost Queensland’s representation in the ministry – and Brandis’ departure complicates the issue further.
Favourite to get Brandis’ portfolio of attorney-general is Social Services Minister Christian Porter, who was attorney-general in the Western Australian government before he moved to federal politics.
The Nationals, who appear confident of holding their five cabinet spots despite losing a parliamentary seat to the Liberals, now find themselves with an excess of Victorians in cabinet.
Their new deputy, Bridget McKenzie, is from Victoria, as is existing cabinet member Darren Chester. The party has only four federal MPs from that state.
It is speculated that Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, who is agriculture minister, will move to Chester’s infrastructure portfolio in the changes.
The reshuffle also is likely to see the return of former health minister Sussan Ley, who resigned after allegations of the misuse of travel entitlements, which she denied. Turnbull wants to promote women and personally likes Ley.
The reshuffle comes as the government is behind Labor in the 25th consecutive Newspoll. The ALP leads 53-47% on a two-party basis, unchanged from the previous poll.
Turnbull said recently he regretted referring to Tony Abbott losing 30 consecutive Newspolls when he launched his 2015 challenge against the former prime minister.
Abbott replied that he will respond to this Turnbull statement of regret, but he wanted to leave it until after Saturday’s Bennelong byelection.