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Morrison’s broad church

Jun 4, 2019 • 12m31s

Scott Morrison’s cabinet is a careful balance between those who backed him during last year’s leadership spill, and those who backed Peter Dutton.

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Morrison’s broad church

07 • Jun 4, 2019

Morrison’s broad church

[Theme Music]

ELIZABETH:

From Schwartz Media. I’m Elizabeth Kulas.
This is 7am.

Scott Morrison’s cabinet is a careful balance between those who backed him during last year’s leadership spill, and those who backed Peter Dutton. There are well-received appointments and others that are more controversial. Paddy Manning discusses who’s ended up where and what it means.

[Music ends]

ARCHIVED RECORDING – Unidentified journalist

"Prime Minister Scott Morrison has just held his first cabinet meeting since the swearing in ceremony this morning. This is just into the newsroom."

ARCHIVED RECORDING – Scott Morrison

"So this is our task team. I’m privileged to serve amongst you. Every single day."

[Applause]

ELIZABETH:

Let's launch in.

PADDY:

Let's launch into it.

ELIZABETH:

Okay. Scott Morrison's just announced his new ministry a few days ago. What are his choices say about the sort of government that he's likely to lead?

PADDY:

Well, I think it's really interesting he's actually struck a very tight balance between the moderates and conservatives inside the Liberal Party.

ELIZABETH:

Paddy Manning is the contributing politics editor at The Monthly magazine.

PADDY:

And, I think it reflects the unique circumstances in which Morrison took the leadership. It was you know conservatives that knocked off Malcolm Turnbull but it was moderates that installed Scott Morrison, and so he's there by virtue of a very small number of swing votes that helped knock Turnbull down, and then swung around to him. He's only really there at the at the behest of, you know, 40 odd moderates who had backed Turnbull and didn't want change at all. He does need to kind of balance and heal the divisions between those two camps.

ELIZABETH:

Obviously some key moderates have also left the party. Who has he replaced some of those people with?

PADDY:

Kelly O'Dwyer, Christopher Pyne were both senior moderates in the cabinet who announced that they would quit well before the election, and might now be regretting it, I suspect. And then there are also some conservatives that, you know, put their hand up and said that they wouldn't be recontesting, you know, in the expectation that the Coalition was heading for defeat. So Steve Ciobo in trade, or the Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion from the Country Liberal Party up in the territory. So, you know, there was a mix of people that, you know, the government lost. But it wasn't clear whether in his appointments would Morrison be rewarding conservatives particularly. So, there was a lot of commentary you would have seen about how sort-of left leaning clique around Turnbull was gone and there was an expectation that the Morrison government would be more conservative than the Turnbull government had been. And I think that if you look at this Ministry closely, I'm not sure that that holds water. I think he's made a genuine effort here, to strike a balance as I say.

ELIZABETH:

So, let's talk about some of the more well-received appointments first if we can. Let's start with Linda Reynolds.

PADDY:

Yeah. Well Linda's an interesting appointment. She has got long-experience in defence. She was already in cabinet as defence industry minister but before she entered Parliament she was the first woman to make the rank of brigadier. She's got a masters degree in Strategic Studies. She's worked for a defence contractor, Raytheon. So she spent a lot of years on the defence foreign affairs committee so she's a good appointment for this portfolio.

You've also got a situation, a history, in this portfolio of rapid turnover and it's kind of a political graveyard. You know, they've very rarely had a defence minister that's lasted more than a year or two. So there's no doubt it's a testing portfolio, and with this new structure that the coalition has come up with, a Defence Industry Minister also in Cabinet, there is every chance that they can make a fist of it.

ELIZABETH:

Another fairly well received appointment was Paul Fletcher and into the Communications and Arts portfolio. Let's talk about him and his professional history.

PADDY:

Yeah well he used to work for Optus, of course and for years before he came into Parliament he actually wrote a book called Wide Brown Land that basically set out how Optus' his main competitor, Telstra the incumbent, Telco, had stymied investment in broadband over a long period. He was assistant to Turnbull as communications minister, so his Parliamentary Secretary for Communications, so he's got some background in the portfolio. But then when Turnbull became PM and Mitch Fifield was made Communications Minister, of course, he’s missed out on you know in those years but he's still heavily involved in the design and implementation of the Coalition's model for the NBN. And it's going to be very interesting now to see how he manages the completion of the rollout and then the transition to potential privatisation… because I think that the Coalition did not expect to win and were hoping to just shove this looming reckoning off to Labor.

ELIZABETH:

And how do you think he'll go?

PADDY:

Well, it could be ironic if he ends up as being, you know, former Optus executive privatising the network in a way that it ends up merging with the infrastructure arm of Telstra, but he obviously knows the industry and his appointment was welcomed here including in some quarters that you might have expected would be more critical.

ELIZABETH:

And so, let's turn now to Ken Wyatt. Ken Wyatt, of course, has been probably the most spoken about Cabinet appointment?

PADDY:

Yeah. Wyatt has taken on as Minister for Indigenous Australians. The first Aboriginal person to hold that portfolio, and the first Aboriginal person to be appointed to cabinet. So, he was the star of the swearing in ceremony on Thursday, but he has got a very difficult job ahead of him because the previous government under Malcolm Turnbull, the kind of shock rejection of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, left the whole question of constitutional recognition up in the air.

[Music starts]

ELIZABETH:

And what is Ken Wyatt saying publicly about the voice to Parliament?

PADDY:

Well publicly, he's being very cautious, and in particular, about a timeframe. So he doesn't want to rush a referendum which fails. He wants to make sure that there is both bipartisan support and community support, including, in particular, of course Indigenous community support. So he was warning last week that there was the possibility of a 1999 style outcome, in which, the proposition gets put to the people, fails and then never gets heard of again for 30 or 40 years. I mean the problem he’s facing is that some of his cabinet colleagues are absolutely not sold on the idea of a voice to Parliament. Only last week we had Christian Porter as Attorney-General describe the proposal as vague. So clearly there is a long way to go for the Coalition on this question.

ELIZABETH:

We’ll be right back.

[Music ends]

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ELIZABETH:

So Paddy, the Morrison ministry has been announced a number of those appointments were well received. Others, of course, are more contentious. One of those is probably the combination of portfolios that have been given to Christian Porter. That's attorney general and industrial relations.

PADDY:

Yes. This has never been done before. The role of attorney-general is, it's much more of a traditional kind of first law officer role, so Christian Porter is a you know incredibly ambitious former W.A. Treasurer, and he's taken on this portfolio of Industrial Relations. Now, the union movement was quite keen on engaging. You know, they've obviously come into this election with a huge expectation that they would be working with the Labor Government, and they've spent 25 million dollars or something to that end, you know and they changed the rules campaign which has now fallen flat on its face and so they have to try to be conciliatory, I'm sure.

ELIZABETH:

Right and he has said publicly, Porter has said publicly, that he’s looking for a more law and order approach in the portfolio.

PADDY:

Well, that's what he said in his first statement, was that he was going to concentrate on the law enforcement side of it initially in particular on building sites. And so you know the union movement had been campaigning strongly for the abolition of the Australian Building and Construction Commission. But obviously, that's now not going to happen. And despite that kind of sentiment, the union movement said that they were happy to work with him. I mean from the union movement's perspective, anyone's better than Michaelia Cash.

ELIZABETH:

Paddy, are there any other appointments that have been a little more controversial in the time since they were announced?

PADDY:

Yeah, Richard Colbeck was a surprise appointment as Youth Affairs Minister, given he’s past 60.

ELIZABETH:

This is the kind of ministry that would usually be given to a younger kind-of talented person who looks like they hold some promise in the party. What happened in this case?

PADDY:

Well obviously, it's the older voters that have really backed the Coalition in. Particularly, over the issue of you know the franking credit reforms that Labor was proposing. And it's a kind of unashamed recognition that that's the Liberal's constituency. Another controversial appointment this week was Jason Wood, who picked up the portfolio of multicultural affairs. He's a former cop from Victoria who’s been part of that campaign to scare everyone witless about African gangs running riot in Melbourne. And then he gets made Minister for multicultural affairs.

ELIZABETH:

Paddy, were there any people who were not given portfolios. People who might prove to be a problem for Scott Morrison down the track?

PADDY:

Within days of the announcement of the ministry, Barnaby Joyce, the former National’s leader was rattling the cage about how he is an expert at using the power of a backbencher and he had a few issues, you know, from his own electorate of New England that he wanted to make sure were addressed and given the government only had a two seat majority, they better take them into account. There's plenty of scope for mischief making. But at the moment, because Morrison has pulled off such a stunning win. There's a real effort to unite the party.

ELIZABETH:

And who in this new ministry most has Morrison's back?

PADDY:

I think one of the most interesting characters is Ben Morton who has been given the role of Assistant Minister for the Prime Minister and Cabinet. That's a strange kind of title, but what it means is, he's kind of the the PM’S right-hand man. He will have a particular kind of responsibility..

[Music starts]

PADDY:

For those sensitive, you know, dealing with the cabinet and making sure that that works but also dealing with the backbench and the party. So, it's a it's a very sensitive, important role, even if it's not inside cabinet...if Morrison is going to be the great unifier, a lot of the work is going to fall to Ben Morton as his right hand man. It's a sensitive role on one to watch over the next, you know, year or two.

ELIZABETH:

Paddy, thank you so much for being with us.

PADDY:

No worries, thanks Elizabeth.

[Music ends]

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ELIZABETH:

Elsewhere in the news:

The new minister for admissions reduction, Angus Taylor, has missed his first deadline for publishing admissions data. There was a Friday deadline for data from the December Quarter, which has still not been released. And the Reserve Bank is expected to lower interest rates when it meets later today, if it does, it’s a worrying sign for the economy--for the cut-underscoring weakness.

This is 7am.

I’m Elizabeth Kulas.

See you Wednesday.

Scott Morrison’s cabinet is a careful balance between those who backed him during last year’s leadership spill, and those who backed Peter Dutton. There are well-received appointments and others that are more controversial. Paddy Manning discusses who is where and what it means.

Guest: Contributing editor (politics) for The Monthly Paddy Manning.

Background reading:

Inside the broad church of Scott Morrison in The Saturday Paper.
The Saturday Paper
The Monthly

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7am is hosted by Elizabeth Kulas. The show is produced by Emile Klein and Ruby Schwartz. Our editor is Erik Jensen. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Equate Studio.

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07: Morrison’s broad church