October 10th 2015

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Will drought and falling dollar spike food prices?

CANBERRA OBSERVED Nationals extract good deal in Turnbull takeover

EDITORIAL Obama's climate gambit: do as I say, not as I do!

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Senate committee says no to marriage plebiscite

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Turnbull divides party in Cabinet reshuffle

RURAL AFFAIRS FTAs eat away at our food and agriculture surpluses

RELIGION IN RUSSIA Byzantine Catholics driven underground

FINANCE Hidden by a metaphor: the secret life of money

EDUCATION Proliferation of screens making kids no smarter

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Cabinet door must be open to public service

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Child-support program under the microscope

PUBLIC POLICY Prohibition of drugs has the evidence on its side

CINEMA Kids will love pixelated Aussie classic: Blinky Bill: The Movie

BOOK REVIEW Hope for the Land of the Southern Cross

BOOK REVIEW Evaluating arguments against free will


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Turnbull divides party in Cabinet reshuffle

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, October 10, 2015

Malcolm Turnbull has given a very clear indication of the type of government he will lead, with the reshuffle announced on September 20. The new Cabinet will include Liberal feminists, together with the people who played a key role in Turnbull’s accession.

Marise Payne goes to Defence.

At the same time, competent ministers who had served in senior positions in the Abbott government have been unceremoniously dropped to the backbench.

It was inevitable that there would be a sense of outrage among many supporters of former prime minister Tony Abbott when he was forced out by a party-room coup.

If Malcolm Turnbull wanted to allay concerns that he was punishing his party opponents, he would have ensured that all sections of the party were included in the leadership team.

In fact, the only prominent Abbott supporters to have survived the coup were West Australian Senator Mathias Cormann, the Finance Minister – and the probable reason for his survival was that he comes from Western Australia, part of the Liberal heartland – and Josh Frydenberg from Victoria.

Another WA Liberal, Christian Porter, a former state attorney-general and treasurer, has been appointed to the important ministry of Social Services.

One revealing fact, which was reported by The Australian, was that all six of the Liberals who walked alongside Mr Turnbull into the meeting at which he was elected were given ministerial posts.

Further, The Australian reported: “Anyone who was at the key meeting to build numbers for the challenge – at Dr Hendy’s home in Queanbeyan on the Sunday before the ballot – has been looked after.”

The axing of former treasurer Joe Hockey, who has announced that he will retire from politics completely, means that Mr Turnbull has disposed of two of his rivals in one fell swoop.

It was not surprising that Scott Morrison should have been appointed Treasurer, after having abandoned Tony Abbott in the run-up to the leadership ballot.

Nor was it surprising that a strong Turnbull backer, Christopher Pyne, would be promoted to Industry, Innovation and Science, a portfolio in which he will have to deal with the imminent collapse of the motor manu­facturing industry in South Australia and Victoria.

Among the more extraordinary appointments was that of NSW Liberal Senator Marise Payne to the key post of Defence Minister, replacing the hard-working and effective Kevin Andrews.

Mr Andrews is paying the price not merely for supporting Tony Abbott but also for challenging Turnbull for leadership of the party back in 2009.

When Mr Andrews took over the Defence portfolio late in 2014, Defence was in a mess. The government was considering selling off the Adelaide shipbuilder ASC, the submarine and destroyer replacement programs were in disarray, and there was widespread criticism of the joint strike fighter project announced in mid-2014.

Since then, relations between the political and civilian branches of Defence have been restored, and the Defence white paper has been prepared and is shortly to be released.

Mr Andrews said in announcing his departure as Defence Minister: “I have:

  • “initiated a competitive evaluation process for Australia’s future submarine program, providing a clear acquisition strategy and pathway for Australian industry to maximise its involvement in the program, whilst not compromising capability, cost, program schedule or risk;
  • “brought forward the build of the future frigate by three years and the offshore patrol vessels by two years;
  • “remediated the air warfare destroyer (AWD) program, inves­ting an additional $1.2 billion and inserting key advisers to get the project back on track, delivering the second AWD earlier this year; and
  • “brought forward the Pacific patrol boat tender (for 21 boats) that will provide replacement patrol boats for Pacific nations and invest around $2 billion in the Australian defence industry.”

Mr Andrews’ successor, Maryse Payne, is a Liberal senator from New South Wales and formerly minister for Human Services, whose background was in the NSW Young Liberals.

Senator Payne will have a steep learning curve – she has previously held only a relatively junior ministerial post –  at Defence, which in the past has been riven with conflicts between the services, between civilian and military leaderships, and between politicians and administrators.

The appointment of Turnbull’s close ally, SA Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham, to the important Education Department, will further consolidate Turnbull’s control of the Liberal Party’s agenda and direction.

In a clear bid to differentiate himself from Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull has appointed six women to the Ministry, and several to Cabinet.

While this will undoubtedly please the chattering classes, it will do nothing to heal the wounds in the party that Turnbull’s coup has created.

Hopefully these appointments will not exacerbate the deep divisions that exist within the Liberal Party in the run-up to the 2016 federal election.

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