View from The Hill

View from The Hill

Turnbull makes necessity the mother of opportunity

Malcolm Turnbull said on unveiling his revamped team that ‘organisms that don’t change are dead’. Dean Lewins/AAP

Malcolm Turnbull had Saturday’s reshuffle forced on him by circumstances but he has used the opportunity to good advantage.

He had much more space to promote people than one would normally expect after such a short time as leader. Some was created in unfortunate ways, with scandals causing three casualties from his initial ministry; two retirements of senior figures gave more room.

Turnbull has brought in or pushed up some talent that was neglected first time around, stretching across the factional divide. The revamped cabinet, expanded by one to 22, has one more woman, an extra National (making four) and three new faces. He has also shored up two NSW Liberals whose preselections have been threatened.

While the changes are extensive, core policy portfolios remain in the same hands, including treasury, health, education, immigration, defence, foreign affairs and environment.

Two of the new cabinet members are Nationals – the party’s new deputy Fiona Nash, and Darren Chester, who leaps from an assistant minister to the A-team. Queensland Liberal Steven Ciobo is promoted to cabinet to take Andrew Robb’s trade job. Turnbull has used the “special envoy” device to enable Robb to act as mother’s help to Ciobo while he learns the ropes.

Nash takes the number of women in cabinet to six; her portfolio of regional development adds regional communications – a huge issue in many rural areas – to her existing rural health area.

With Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce choosing to keep agriculture – a sensible decision giving him time to come to grips with his new leadership role without having to learn a new ministry – Chester takes over Warren Truss' old job of infrastructure and transport. Chester – who last year attracted headlines for supporting same-sex marriage in a party that doesn’t agree with it – is one of the most competent Nationals.

There are five new members of the outer ministry. Victorian Liberal Dan Tehan, who has had a high profile as chair of the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security, moves from the backbench to take defence materiel and veterans services. Alan Tudge, another Victorian Liberal, is promoted from an assistant minister into human services, vacated by the messy departure of Stuart Robert last week.

Scott Ryan, also from Victoria, goes from assistant cabinet secretary to take vocational education and skills.

The Nationals leader chooses that party’s frontbenchers and Joyce has opted to bring in to the ministry Matt Canavan, from Queensland, and dump Luke Hartsuyker, from NSW.

The Queensland Nats, having lost their cabinet representation with Truss’ departure, needed placating. Also Canavan, an economist who formerly worked with the Productivity Commission, is close to Joyce, having been his chief-of-staff, and is an up-and-comer in the party. He becomes minister for northern Australia, an area the Nationals particularly wanted, where he will work to Resources Minister Josh Frydenberg.

Joyce has overlooked for promotion NSW National Michael McCormack, who had threatened to run for the leadership. McCormack, who was assistant minister to Truss, has been shifted to assistant minister for defence. Little-known Queenslander Keith Pitt is Joyce’s assistant minister.

Mal Brough, who stood aside as special minister of state in December pending the outcome of a police investigation, on Saturday finally quit the ministry. “I have made this decision after speaking to the Australian Federal Police this week where they confirmed that their inquiries may take ‘several more months’,“ he said in a statement.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who has been acting in the role, is now formalised in the special minister of state job, which is currently especially important because the government is trying to change the Senate voting system.

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, who as an assistant minister has been very much on song with Turnbull on multicultural issues, is elevated to the ministry as minister for international development and the Pacific. After suggestions of pressure on her preselection, the promotion sends a clear Turnbull message to NSW Liberal preselectors.

NSW Liberal Angus Taylor – also with preselection concerns – entered parliament in 2013 bringing a high-profile business background but was overlooked in Turnbull’s initial ministry. Now he becomes assistant minister to the prime minister for cities and digital transformation.

Announcing his first reshuffle last September Turnbull talked up having a a minister for “cities and the built environment”, saying: “Historically the federal government has had a limited engagement with cities and yet that is where most Australians live, it is where the bulk of our economic growth can be found.”

But after Jamie Briggs' December resignation over inappropriate behaviour, Turnbull has now notably not given cities a separate minister in his new line-up – although he has brought the area into his own bailiwick.

Outspoken backbencher Craig Laundy becomes assistant minister for multicultural affairs, an area where he is always a strong and sensible voice. Queenslander Jane Prentice becomes assistant minister for disability services – a deserved promotion.

Turnbull told his news conference: “Change offers opportunity … this is transition, this is change, this is renewal … Organisms that don’t change are dead so you’ve got to be prepared to change.

“You’ve got to be prepared to innovate, that’s why I talk about innovation all the time, that’s why I talk about enterprise.”

The new team will be sworn in on Thursday.

New Turnbull Ministry