Rudd’s new cabinet: the experts respond

Rudd’s new ministry retains several well-known figures in their previous roles but also includes a few newer names. AAP Image/Lukas Coch

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has named his new cabinet, which features a few familiar names and several others that will be unknown to many Australians.

Here are some expert reactions to the new ministry.

Education

Bronwyn Hinz, School of Social and Political Sciences and Melbourne Graduate School of Education at the University of Melbourne

I think it’s a good thing that Jenny Macklin has retained her Disability portfolio. The NDIS starts today, so you would want the minister who guided the development to be on the ground for its implementation. She has valuable experience in the community services sector and in Indigenous affairs, and has developed a range of skills, experiences and networks to deal with the complex issues in this portfolio.

I was very surprised that Jacinta Collins’ portfolio has changed completely [to Minister for Mental Health and Ageing]. Jacinta Collins was the Parliamentary Secretary for School Education and schools spokesperson in the Senate. She and her team know the “Gonski” reform package back-to-front. Given that Rudd has said the negotiations with the states that have yet to sign up to the government’s National Education Reform Agreement will cease in just under two weeks, and the recent resignation of Schools Minister Peter Garrett, Senator Collin’s experience and expertise would have been a valuable asset in the intergovernmental negotiations. Having a complete change in these two school policy portfolios 13 days before the cessation of negotiations doesn’t make too much sense to me.

The fact that Jacinta Collins was promoted on Wednesday night in a caucus ballot to become the Deputy Leader of the Senate, and promoted to Manager of Government Business in the Senate by Rudd indicates support from the Prime minister and party room. I’m not sure why that dual support, coupled with her experience in the schooling portfolio, didn’t translate to her maintaining it or being promoted to Minister for Schools for this critical time, given the importance of the reforms to the party’s platform and re-election.

Maintaining Tanya Plibersek [in the health portfolio], despite her vocal criticism of Rudd’s leadership suggests that this re-shuffle goes beyond loyalty. The prime minister is also considering talent and experience.

Gavin Moodie, Principal Policy Adviser at RMIT University

The turnover of higher education ministers has been a real disadvantage to the sector, in its leadership and protecting it from budget cuts. Carr was an excellent minister for science in the first Rudd government and I look forward to him continuing his excellent contribution in the time available to him in the second Rudd government.

It is a pity that ministers are chosen by their internal affiliations rather than merit.

Maxine McKew, Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow at the University of Melbourne

The announcement that Bill Shorten will take on the education portfolio is a surprise. It comes at a critical time for everyone in the sector. The Victorian powerbroker brings solid skills in social policy design and negotiating strength to an area that should be a key election strength for Labor in the run-up to the 2013 poll.

His immediate task will be to seal a Gonski funding deal with his home state. He’d be wise to listen to the very real concerns that the Victorians have about an overly meddlesome Commonwealth. Shorten is well placed to find a balanced agreement that recognises the need for accountability, while at the same time respecting Victoria’s devolved system. The puzzle for so many in the education sector is why Federal Labor has ignored the success stories that it has helped engineer. There are inspiring examples of turnaround schools all across the country where principals, teachers and students are working a collegial way to lift academic achievement and transform learning. Let’s hear them.

Broadband and communications

Nick Economou, Senior Lecturer, School of Political and Social Inquiry at Monash University

[On Anthony Albanese as the new Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy] It’s a great appointment. What a great communicator! I think the overall impression that the Rudd government needs to give the electorate is that there has been a change in government - even though the party hasn’t changed. And having anybody other than [previous broadband minister] Stephen Conroy in that portfolio would be a plus.

I would imagine there is a set program in place, and he will basically carry on from Conroy. Because, remember, there was never any great policy dispute between Rudd and Gillard. I think in all of these portfolios, not just communications and the NBN, we will see a continuation of policy.

What the new appointments have to try and do is give this impression that there has been a change in personnel. Given that Conroy was such a high profile person, and is now being replaced by an equally high-profile guy in Albanese, I think that satisfies the sense that there has been a change. Even though, in a policy sense, there probably won’t be a change.

Immigration

Jock Collins, Professor of Social Economics, UTS Business School at University of Technology, Sydney

Immigration is probably one the most controversial issues and it will be one of the most central issues, particularly in relation to boat people.

[Incoming Immigration Minister] Tony Burke does have a record in the field, so the portfolio is going to someone with experience and that is necessary because of the importance of issue.

The challenge of Tony Burke is really to challenge and diffuse the simplistic Abbott-Morrison line of ‘stop the boats’ and the proposal to send them back to Indonesia. Burke has to try and find some new way of taking the heat out of that issue, getting the Australian public on side with the great humanitarian stories. It’s up to the new Immigration Minister to sell that story, to get the humanitarian sympathy that the Australian people should have to boat arrivals, and to somehow deflate the sensationalist race card that the Abbott-Morrison opposition are using.

Burke is an effective communicator and I think he’s a capable politician and can engage the media and communicate the issues of his portfolio. He’s shown that with previous portfolios. The big unknown here is how will the Rudd government differentiate itself from the Gillard government, also from the Abbott opposition on this particular issue. Their new stance is not clear yet.

I was also very pleased to note that Tony Burke has responsibility for immigration and multiculturalism because in the past those two portfolios have been separated and I think the issue of multiculturalism has become an undeveloped issue.

Health

Robert Wells, Policy Head, Research Assets, Sax Institute; Co-Director, Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute at the Australian National University

I think it’s very positive that Tanya Plibersek is staying on as Health Minister for a number of reasons. First of all, it does give continuity to the health portfolio in a time when there’s a lot happening to implement the health reforms. Secondly, she has proved herself in a short time to be a very highly regarded minister and she’s very respected by the whole sector. She’s clearly mastered the portfolio.

I think it’s positive [to see] the Senator Carr appointment again to research and higher education, which are important issues in their own right. I think that’s important for the health sector as well, not just for the higher education sector, because that’s where most health professionals are trained and where most of the research occurs. So I think that’s a positive step as well.

I think it’s a good thing that medical research is added as an identified area of responsibility for the minister.

Jim Gillespie, Deputy Director, Menzies Centre for Health Policy and Associate Professor in Health Policy at the University of Sydney

I think [Tanya Plibersek] has done it competently and well. It would be a very difficult portfolio to make any changes if Rudd wanted to. I’m not surprised that she’s staying on - I don’t think it really has any big implications. I wouldn’t expect any great changes in this portfolio.

Environment

Ian Lowe, Emeritus Professor, School of Science at Griffith University

[Incoming environment minister Mark Butler] done a good job as Minister for Mental Health and Aging and I welcome his appointment as Minister for Climate Change and Environment. I urge him to continue the commitment of his predecessor in this area.

The Sustainable Australia report just released says we’re still going backwards on those environmental indicators, so we still need to pay much more attention to the environmental consequences of population growth, consumption and economic development.

With the international momentum changing on climate with Obama’s speech, Australia needs to commit to stronger targets and more aggressive action to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, and in particular we need to stop the expansion of coal exports.

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