Canberra Observed: After the election: new look for both sidesby News WeeklyNews Weekly
, December 15, 2001
Both political leaders have taken considerable risks in selecting their respective frontbenches for the coming Parliament, due to sit again early in February.
New Labor leader Simon Crean
has opted for a young group of largely untried politicians, dumping the old guard in the process.
On the one hand Crean was able to achieve in one fortnight (and in the fortnight before he was actually elected leader) things that Kim Beazley inexplicably could not do in five years. He demanded of the Labor Caucus that the time-servers and hacks make way for a group of younger, clearly talented MPs to gain experience and develop policy.
He put the unions on notice that their stranglehold over the Labor Party was under scrutiny and suggested all policies were up for review.
The fact that Crean was able to wipe the slate clean so quickly and stamp his authority on the party is the starkest ackowledgement that Beazley’s five years at the helm were a wasted opportunity.
Crean’s next and more difficult job will be to get some of those lacklustre ex-ministers and ex-ministerial spokesmen, many of whom are still relatively young, out of the Parliament altogether.
Crean has brought in 12 new faces to his team, including four new MPs (Julia Gillard, Senator Kerry O’Brien, Craig Emerson, and Kevin Rudd) into the Shadow Cabinet.
At the same time, the new leader has created inevitable resentment on the backbench, and those jilted former front-runners will be demanding that the new team perform.
Maverick Sydney MP Mark Latham has been given a wide policy berth, as Assistant Treasurer and Economic Ownership spokesman, to develop ways of giving the masses a greater stake in their own economic destiny.
Former political adviser and rising star Julia Gillard has been given the dual task of Population and Immigration - a hint that Labor is at last starting to realise the need to lift Australia’s birth rate or at least tackle the ageing problem head on.
In contrast, Prime Minister John Howard
has had to dig deep to find new talent and discovered that replacing three key retired ministers of the calibre of Peter Reith, Dr Michael Wooldridge and John Fahey has been impossible.
Howard’s first Cabinet - just like Bob Hawke’s (1983-84) - appears to have been his best and it is vital that the Liberal Party starts to think seriously about breeding the next generation of future leaders.
Howard has promoted three new players to his Cabinet: Senator Kay Patterson as Health and Ageing Minister, Ian Macfarlane as Industry Tourism and Resources Minister, and Dr Brendan Nelson as Education, Science and Training Minister.
The spectacular rise of Senator Patterson shows just how difficult it was for Howard to find experienced replacements.
Senator Patterson is a former academic who specialised in gerontology (the scientific study of old age) and is no slouch. However, the Victorian Senator has never been a Minister, was relegated to third spot on the Liberal Senate ticket before the last election and only got back into the Senate through DLP preferences. Now suddenly she has been thrust into Cabinet and into one of the biggest and most complex portfolios.
There is no doubt Senator Patterson will be diligent, but her appointment suggests Prime Minister Howard is basically going to "hold the line" on health with no more major shakeups planned for the foreseeable future.
Similarly, Dr Nelson has shown through his backbench work on employee share ownership that he is able and politically savvy. But he now has been thrust into the crucial education portfolio - an area where the previous minister, Dr David Kemp, started a revolution with his emphasis on basic literacy and numeracy.
Dr Nelson will have a major challenge on his hands in reforming Australia’s universities which are overcrowded, understaffed and in many cases have appallingly low standards.
For his part, adversarial Dr Kemp has been given the odd role of Environment Minister. He is an ideologue and someone who enjoys the cut and thrust of policy debate - something there is no shortage of in environmental politics.
The promotion of Victorian Kevin Andrews to the Aged Care Ministry is a clever move and long overdue.
Andrews is likely to handle the job with the quiet assuredness which characterises his work behind-the-scenes in policy development, which has never been given the recognition it deserves. Moreover, few if any backbench politicians have come under the sustained pressure Andrews experienced during the anti-euthanasia legislation he courageously sponsored.
Overall, Mr Howard has made the best out of an inexperienced bunch, and it will be a fascinating contest when the two new teams lock horns in the new year.