The government almost certainly would have to obtain the support of Tasmanian crossbench senator Jacqui Lambie to amend or repeal the medevac legislation.
Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton on Sunday claimed Labor was reconsidering its position on the legislation, but that was quickly dismissed by his opposite number Kristina Keneally.
The Coalition would need four of the six non-Green crossbench Senate votes, assuming the ALP and Greens opposed.
The government could rely on One Nation, which will have two senators, and Cory Bernardi from the Australian Conservatives.
But that would leave it one vote short. Stirling Griff, one of the two Centre Alliance senators, said Centre Alliance was “100% opposed” to repeal or amendment of the legislation. That position was “non-negotiable”, Griff said.
This would put Lambie, who is returning to the Senate after having to quit in the citizenship crisis, as the swing vote. Her spokeswoman said she was not giving answers on anything yet.
The government said in the election campaign that it would repeal the legislation.
It claimed when the medevac bill was passed – against Coalition opposition during the period of minority government – that it would lead to a flood of transfers from Manus and Nauru, including of people accused of serious crimes. It reopened Christmas Island and said any transferees under the medevac legislation would be sent there.
Dutton said on Sunday just over 30 people had come under the new law, none of whom had been sent to Christmas Island. Asked on the ABC whether they included any criminals or people charged with offences Dutton said he didn’t know. When pressed he said, “we don’t bring anyone to our country where we can’t mitigate the risk”.
Dutton continued to insist the government could be compelled under the legislation to transfer criminals, although the medevac legislation gives the minister power to veto people on security grounds.
The minister claimed Labor was reconsidering its position “and that they would be open to suggestions about how that bill could be repealed or at the very least wound back”.
But Keneally said he had misrepresented Labor’s position; she stressed it supported the legislation.
It was “up to the government to explain if changes are necessary. I have no information that would suggest changes are necessary,” she said.
“If the government believes that the medevac legislation is no longer necessary to ensure that sick people can get the health care they need then the government needs to explain why to the parliament.
“And if the government wants to improve the medevac legislation to ensure that people can more readily get the health care that they need then the government needs to explain that to the parliament.
“The government has said nothing about either of those two aspects of the legislation”.
Dutton said there were now just over 800 people remaining across Nauru and Manus.
He did not think the United States would take the maximum 1,250 people under the deal between Malcolm Turnbull and Barack Obama.
So far 531 had gone to the US and there were about 295 in the pipeline who had approvals but hadn’t gone yet. More than 300 had been rejected by the US.
He hoped all offered a place would take it up. About 95 had either withdrawn from consideration or rejected an offer. “If we can get those 95 across the line, we get closer to zero”.
In a controversial decision, Australia accepted under the US deal two Rwandan men accused of involvement in the murder of tourists on a gorilla-watching expedition in Uganda in 1999. The government says the men have been found by Australian security agencies not to pose a threat.
Pressed on whether these two were the only ones coming here to fulfil Australia’s side of the deal, Dutton said: “We don’t have plans to bring any others from America at this stage.”
Dutton, while saying it was a matter for the department, also indicated the security company Paladin was likely to have its contract for services on Manus rolled over, despite an ongoing investigation by the Australian National Audit Office into the Home Affairs department’s management of the procurement process for the earlier A$423 million contracts.
Keneally said the A$423 million contract had been “given out by the government in a closed process – a closed rushed process […] to an organisation that was registered in a beach shack on Kangaroo Island, that had one member barred from entering PNG, had another accused of fraud”.
Scott Morrison travels to Europe for D-Day commemorations next week. While there, he may also hold talks with leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel ahead of the G20 meeting in Japan in June.
With the UK and US in the midst of internal and international repositioning –otherwise known as turmoil – and with China continuing to flex and grow, safeguarding Australia’s strategic and commercial interests has rarely been more complicated, nor more of a singular Australian responsibility.
Somewhat perversely, this may explain why Morrison’s first stop as a freshly re-elected prime minister will not be London or Washington, or even Berlin, but rather, the Solomon Islands capital of Honiara.
That is significant. Whoever won the May 18 election, the regional “backyard” was set to become a renewed priority for Australia.
Attention now turns to small and micro nations, who suffer in varying degrees from the effects of remoteness, narrow economies, endemic poverty, poor infrastructure, and, most existentially, rising sea levels. These countries are eager for assistance in securing their futures, whether sourced from old friends like the US and Australia, or new enthusiasts like China.
Labor’s new deputy, Richard Marles, has long championed improved development aid and other assistance to Australia’s nearest neighbours, arguing it is Australia’s moral responsibility. That’s a given, but so is the strategic case for a renewed presence. Namely, the expanding diplomatic and strategic reach of Beijing.
Morrison is alive to it too.
China’s influence across the region – particularly as an infrastructure and project financier – is growing. This is seen in Canberra as a serious threat, with both major parties looking for ways to strengthen ties with Pacific nations that had been allowed to fray.
Darwin-based Labor MP Luke Gosling told me he would make the Northern Territory capital the official base for Australia’s renewed regional extension.
“Whether it is responding to earthquake, cyclone, tsunami, or terrorist attack – it should be the hub for humanitarian, emergency and disaster assistance to the region, but more importantly involved in capacity building with our regional neighbours,” he said.
Valid though this is, success will turn not so much on a change of arrangements internally, as a whole new basis to Australia’s regional pitch.
Experts say the key to closer relations is talking to smaller countries about their concerns, rather than the tendency we’ve had to date to talk about ours.
For Morrison, that is a political challenge with distinct domestic characteristics. It means acknowledging the contemporaneous real-world effects of global warming, including the direct contribution to carbon emissions from mining and burning coal.
For low-lying island countries including Kiribati, with a population of just 110,000, and Fiji, this is no abstract debate but rather one of life and death, here and now.
“It’s their top security priority,” Michael Wesley, Dean of the College of Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University, told Sky News “whereas our top security priority in the Pacific is China”.
“Pacific leaders have made it very clear that they don’t see China in the Pacific as a threat, so we’ve got an immediate mismatch of what we perceive to be the problems between us and the Pacific Islanders.”
Wesley described global warming as an existential concern “happening to them right now”.
“We have to be extremely sensitive about how things like the Adani coal mine, [and] a new coal-fired power plant perhaps being opened, will play out in the Pacific, it goes down like a lead balloon.”
As with Mr Morrison’s visit to Honiara, the order of things matter when communicating internationally.
Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama was among the first to congratulate Morrison on his surprise election win. The pair had struck up a warm relationship when they met earlier this year. But now, as then, the Fijian used the opportunity to seek stronger climate leadership from the region’s wealthiest economy.
His longer post on Facebook provided the kicker:
In Australia, you have defied all expectations; let us take the same underdog attitude that inspired your parliamentary victory to the global fight against climate change. By working closely together, we can turn the tides in this battle – the most urgent crisis facing not only the Pacific, but the world. Together, we can ensure that we are earthly stewards of Fiji, Australia, and the ocean that unites us. Together, we can pass down a planet that our children are proud to inherit.
It was a similar message from Samoa, where Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi welcomed the election result, but noted in an interview with The Guardian that “[Australia] has been lagging behind,” regarding the need for action on the climate emergency.
And it’s a fair bet the content will be the same in Honiara.
The finer points of diplomacy have not been a strength of Morrison, who, even after his recent electoral endorsement, is still less than a year in the top job.
A plainly cynical suggestion made during the Wentworth byelection of moving the Australian embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem caused nothing but embarrassment. More recent comments depicting the US as our friend and China as merely our client raised eyebrows in Beijing.
But a desire to succeed, a personable nature, and an avowedly conservative disposition, suggest the Australian prime minister does not envisage significant direction changes in Australia’s stance on either regional or global affairs. That is a reality likely to prove disappointing to Pacific Island leaders looking for a lot more than kind words as their citizens face inundation.
Kristina Keneally is continuing her rise and rise, appointed to “shadow” Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton, in Anthony Albanese’s frontbench bench line up announced on Sunday.
After last week obtaining a place in the shadow ministry and becoming Labor’s deputy Senate leader, with two men standing aside to make way for her, Keneally now takes on one of the toughest players in the Coalition. She’ll also cover immigration, which comes under the home affairs portfolio but has a separate minister in the government’s ranks.
At Bill Shorten’s side all through the election campaign, Keneally didn’t recoil from the task of head kicking. She called Dutton a “thug” and “the most toxic man in Australian politics”.
Dutton is a head kicker from way back. On Sunday he was quickly out of the blocks. “Kristina Keneally I predict will be somebody who is very spiteful, very nasty and very personal in her attacks, that’s been her history,” he said, adding, “I’m not going to attack Kristina Keneally on a personal basis”.
They could make the perfect matchup for those into political blood sports.
Home Affairs to continue under Labor
The appointment does mean, and Albanese confirmed, that the opposition is committed to the home affairs portfolio long term, despite Labor’s platform providing for a review.
Asked “now that you have a home affairs shadow minister, does that mean you will preserve the portfolio if in power?” Albanese said: “Obviously the position we have as a shadow ministry is the one that we hope to take to an election and one that we hope to then implement if we were in government”.
Keneally tweeted:“@AlboMP’s decision to introduce a Shadow Home Affairs portfolio sends a clear message that Labor will ensure Australians are kept safe. Labor fully supports offshore processing, boat turnbacks where safe to do so, and regional resettlement”.
Another notable feature of the Albanese frontbench is Bill Shorten’s appointment as shadow for the National Disability Insurance Scheme and government services, where he will be up against minister Stuart Robert.
It brings Shorten (who wanted health) back to where he started on the ladder after arriving in parliament at the 2007 election, when he was appointed parliamentary secretary for disabilities and children’s services. His work in the disabilities area laid a foundation for the NDIS.
NDIS is now politically important
This is not a high profile post for Shorten but because both he and Robert will have a good deal to prove, it could further ensure the NDIS gets a lot of attention, which will be a good thing.
Albanese made a point of his shadow cabinet having equal numbers of men and women, 12 each, when shadow cabinet secretary Jenny McAllister is included.
The four new members of the shadow cabinet are all women: Keneally, Katy Gallagher, Terri Butler and Madeleine King.
At every opportunity Labor highlights that it does way better on the gender front than the government; frequently, Scott Morrison seeks to argue he is doing better than the Liberals did before.
Chalmers is Labor’s voice on economics
As expected, former finance spokesman and Queenslander Jim Chalmers becomes shadow treasurer. Chalmers has a formidable job in front of him, having simultaneously to carry the day-to-day economic argument while being at the centre of the overhaul of Labor’s most controversial election policies.
His colleagues and the public will have abundant opportunity to assess someone who aspires to be leader in the longer term.
Chalmers’ first task and Labor’s first test will be when the new parliament considers the income tax cuts legislation at the start of July. Finance Minister Mathias Cormann reiterated on Sunday that the government will not split the package, which includes tax relief for higher income earners in later years.
As part of the new economic team Gallagher, one-time ACT chief minister – who has returned to the Senate from her exile in the citizenship crisis – becomes shadow minister for finance.
Albanese performs a balancing act
Former shadow treasurer Chris Bowen will be health spokesman; the previous occupant of that post, Catherine King, moves to infrastructure, transport and regional development.
Tony Burke goes from environment to industrial relations, with Brendan O’Connor, who previously had employment and workplace relations, keeping the former but losing the latter and acquiring industry. This removes the conflict of interest he had, with his brother Michael being secretary of the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union.
A number of shadows remain in their old portfolio spots – one is the new deputy leader Richard Marles (defence). Others include Penny Wong (foreign affairs), Tanya Plibersek (education), Mark Butler (climate change and energy), and Michelle Rowland (communications). But Plibersek loses responsibility for women, which goes to Julie Collins. It remains to be seen how much refashioning Butler will have to do to Labor’s climate policy.
There will be the odd interesting balancing act, such as on coal issues. Queenslander Terri Butler, from the left, gets environment and water; Joel Fitzgibbon, from the right, who was concerned how the coal debate swung votes against him in his mining seat of Hunter, has resources added to his responsibility for agriculture.
Linda Burney will cover Indigenous Australians in addition to her previous responsibilities of families and social services. It will be important how she and the Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, both themselves Indigenous, choose to balance conflict and consensus in this area.
Leigh gets looked after, Husic declines offer
Shayne Neumann has taken a big tumble, from immigration and border protection and a member of shadow cabinet, to veterans affairs and defence personnel in the outer shadow ministry.
Pat Dodson is shadow assistant minister for reconciliation, and Andrew Leigh, who lost his shadow ministry because he didn’t have a faction, has been awarded a position as shadow assistant minister for treasury.
But Ed Husic, who stood down so Keneally could get one of the right’s spots in the shadow ministry, is not even in a shadow assistant minister position. He could have had one – they were in the gift of Albanese – but declined. Which is rather a pity, given his talents.
The Coalition is likely to win 19 of the 40 Senate seats up for grabs at the 2019 election. As they hold 16 of the 36 that are not up for election, they will probably have 35 of the 76 total seats (up four since the pre-election Senate). The new Senate sits from July 1.
Labor is likely to have 26 total seats (no net change), the Greens nine (steady), One Nation two (steady), the Centre Alliance two (steady). Cory Bernardi was not up for election, and Jacqui Lambie regained her Tasmanian seat following her disqualification on Section 44 grounds. While One Nation lost a WA seat, they probably regain Malcolm Roberts after his disqualification.
The likely losers were Fraser Anning, Derryn Hinch, the Liberal Democrats, Brian Burston (who had shifted from One Nation to United Australia Party), and Tim Storer, who did not contest his SA seat.
The Coalition plus One Nation and Bernardi is 38 seats for the right. To pass legislation opposed by Labor and the Greens, the Coalition’s best path will be these 38 votes, plus either Lambie or the Centre Alliance.
With six senators to be elected in each state, a quota is one-seventh of the vote, or 14.3%. With two to be elected in each territory, a quota is one-third of the vote, or 33.3%. Voters are instructed to number at least six boxes above the line, or at least 12 below, though only one above or six below is required for a formal vote. All preferences are voter-directed.
The Senate count is now at 84% of enrolled voters, while the House count is at 91%. The last few percent in the house count have been good for the Greens and bad for the Coalition, but this is unlikely to make a difference to the Senate seat outcomes. Senate results will be finalised by a computer preference distribution, probably by late next week.
Here is the table of likely Senate results for each state and territory. The Coalition was defending just two seats in each state except SA, where it was defending three seats.
In NSW, the Coalition has 2.70 quotas, Labor 2.10, the Greens 0.60 and One Nation 0.34. Labor preferences should assist the Greens, with One Nation too far behind to catch either the Greens or Coalition. Both Labor and the Coalition gain at the expense of the Liberal Democrats and Burston.
In Victoria, the Coalition has 2.54 quotas, Labor 2.19, the Greens 0.73 and One Nation and Hinch Justice both on 0.19. The Coalition appears too far ahead of everyone else to be caught. The Coalition is likely to gain at the expense of Hinch.
In Queensland, the LNP has 2.75 quotas, Labor 1.59, One Nation (Roberts) 0.71 and the Greens 0.68. Whoever finishes last out of the final four after preferences misses out, and that is likely to be Labor. The LNP and One Nation are likely to gain at the expense of Labor and Anning.
In WA, the Liberals have 2.90 quotas, Labor 1.93, the Greens 0.82 and One Nation 0.39. The top three are too far ahead. The Liberals gain at the expense of One Nation.
In SA, the Liberals have 2.65 quotas, Labor 2.13, the Greens 0.75 and One Nation 0.33. The Liberals and Greens are too far ahead. Labor gains at the expense of Storer.
In Tasmania, the Liberals have 2.21 quotas, Labor 2.15, the Greens 0.88, Lambie 0.61 and One Nation 0.24. The Greens and Lambie are too far ahead. Lambie gains at Labor’s expense.
In the ACT, Labor has 1.18 quotas, the Liberals 0.97 and the Greens 0.52. The Liberals will win the second seat. There will be no change.
In the NT, Labor has 1.11 quotas and the Country Liberals 1.10. Preferences are not required for either seat. There will be no change.
The reason for the right’s three-seat lead over the left is Queensland, where six of the 12 senators are likely to be LNP, One Nation two, Labor just three and the Greens one. All other states are likely to split evenly between the right and left, except for Tasmania (6-5 to the left plus Lambie). SA is tied 5-5 with two Centre Alliance.
The table below shows the seats up for election at the next half-Senate election, due by early 2022. While state senators have six-year terms, territory senators are tied to the term of the House.
The Coalition will be defending three seats in every state except SA, where they are defending just one seat. A bad Coalition performance would put their third seat in some states at risk. However, if the Coalition does as well as they did in 2019 in the mainland states, and wins a third Tasmanian seat, the Coalition and One Nation combined would have a Senate majority (39 of 76 seats).
The three senators most likely to lose at the next election are Bernardi and the two Centre Alliance senators, all in SA. At this election, Centre Alliance won just 2.6% or 0.18 quotas and Bernardi’s Conservatives had 1.5% or 0.10 quotas.
The Greens will be happy with their defence of the six senators they had up for election. A similar performance in 2022 would give the Greens 12 senators – the most they have had. But Labor needs to improve greatly to give the left a chance to gain the four senators they would need in 2022 to control the Senate.
Coalition’s national Senate vote increased over 3%
Senate vote shares are currently 38.3% Coalition (up 3.1%), 28.9% Labor (down 0.9%), 10.1% Greens (up 1.5%), 5.4% One Nation (up 1.1%), 2.4% UAP, 1.8% Help End Marijuana Prohibition, 1.7% Shooters, 1.2% Animal Justice and 1.1% Liberal Democrats. Vote shares in the House are 41.5% Coalition (down 0.5%), 33.3% Labor (down 1.4%), 10.3% Greens (up 0.1%), 3.4% UAP and 3.1% One Nation (up 1.8%). One Nation contested 59 of the 151 House seats.
One reason for the increase in the Coalition’s Senate vote is a favourable ballot paper draw. In all states and territories, the Coalition was placed to the left of the Liberal Democrats, so they were not hurt by name confusion. In 2016, the Coalition was to the right of the Liberal Democrats in NSW, Queensland and the ACT.
By state, the Coalition’s vote was up 2.8% in NSW, 3.2% in Victoria, 4.2% in Queensland, 1.7% in WA, 5.3% in SA (helped by the collapse of Centre Alliance since 2016) and up 0.2% in Tasmania. The Coalition’s gain in Victoria could be due to a 3.3% drop for Hinch Justice and a 9.7% drop for Senate groups that stood in 2016, but not 2019.
Another explanation for the Coalition’s vote jump in the Senate is that those with a lower level of educational attainment disliked both Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten in 2016, and were thus likely to vote for other right-wing parties. In 2019, these people liked Scott Morrison. There are many parties to choose from in the Senate, so the Coalition’s higher vote should be seen as an endorsement of Morrison.
In the House, the Coalition’s vote is down 0.5% from 2016. Far fewer right-wing parties stood for the House in 2016 than in 2019, so voters’ choices were more limited in 2016. If the same sorts of candidates had stood in the same seats at both elections, the Coalition’s primary vote would probably have increased in the House too.
Turnout for House increases on 2016
Contrary to this article in Nine newspapers that suggested turnout had fallen to its lowest level since compulsory voting was introduced, official turnout for the May 18 election is currently 91.07%, up 0.06% from 2016. There are many votes outstanding, so turnout will increase further.
As the electoral roll is more complete than it has ever been, this increase in turnout is more impressive than it seems.
It is likely that Labor will hold Macquarie, the last seat in any doubt. That will give the Coalition 77 of the 151 seats, Labor 68 and six crossbenchers.
The national two party count is currently at 51.63-48.37 to the Coalition; the Coalition’s peak was 51.77% on May 30. There are 15 “non-classic” seats that are excluded from this count – ten are likely to favour the Coalition and five Labor. The current two party count therefore understates the Coalition.
Conservatives and Labour smashed at UK’s European elections
I wrote for The Poll Bludger that at the UK’s European Union elections held on May 23, the Brexit party won 32% of the vote and 29 of 73 seats, the Liberal Democrats 20% and 16 seats, Labour just 14% and ten seats, the Greens 12% and seven seats, and the Conservatives 9% and four seats.
Theresa May will resign as Conservative leader on June 7, and the next PM is likely to be a hard Brexiteer.
In the European Union overall, the Liberals and the Greens performed well.
The 2019 federal election, unlike previous campaigns, did not feature a dedicated debate on foreign affairs or defence. The conventional cynicism – that there are no votes in foreign policy – does not adequately explain this. It seems Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Labor leader Bill Shorten reached a shabby consensus that foreign and security policy questions were uniformly too hot to handle.
Foreign affairs is in fact among the most important challenges facing the Morrison government. The simple reason: the status quo that has served Australia so well in the past couple of decades is fast coming to an end.
Australia has uniquely avoided recession among the developed economies because it has surfed a once-in-a-generation wave of Chinese demand for commodities. Australia’s security has also been assured through its longstanding alliance with the US, while its military commitments have been kept largely at arm’s length in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
Trump’s trade wars and protectionist policies are likely to be a continuing point of friction with Australia, which remains heavily reliant on Asian markets (not only China) for trade.
But China is the most important external challenge Australia faces. It’s so all-encompassing that it transcends traditional foreign, trade and defence policy silos, and includes a significant domestic dimension in terms of political interference, as well.
Even though Morrison has already served the better part of a year in office, it’s hard to be sure of his convictions on China. With his mandate secured, he now has both the opportunity and obligation to show his true colours.
Caught between a rock and a hard place
In theory, the Coalition’s election victory should mean continuity in foreign policy, as signalled by Morrison’s decision to retain Marise Payne as foreign minister.
When China was – belatedly – raised during the campaign, Morrison repeated a well-worn mantra about not having to “pick sides” between the United States and China. The former he characterised as Australia’s “friend”, labelling China as a “customer”. While this description no doubt raised eyebrows in Beijing, Morrison was arguing Canberra could “stand by” both.
The Morrison administration has generally sought to position Australia somewhere in between its chief ally and its chief customer. His reticence thus far to make waves with the country’s number one customer may be borne of a desire to maintain Canberra’s room for manoeuvre as a middle power, though this is getting steadily harder.
If the prime minister truly believes Australia can play an intermediary role, few in Canberra’s foreign policy and defence circles would agree. To do so would only expose Australia to heightened risk, precipitating the kind of invidious strategic choices that Morrison wishes to avoid.
It also plays into the Chinese Communist Party’s objective of sowing discord between the US and its Pacific allies.
If Morrison is privately more attuned to the strategic risks China poses – and after nine months of intelligence briefings he should be – then he has a duty to prepare the public for the likelihood of tougher times ahead. Should Australia-China relations take a darker turn, it may prove difficult for the government to persuade the public to back a significant adjustment in national security policy, including increased defence spending.
Moreover, there are risks to publicly framing US-China strategic competition as a destabilising factor for Australia’s security. Australians could judge the prospect of entrapment in a confrontational US policy towards China as potentially more threatening to Australia’s security than Beijing’s deliberate challenge to the “rules-based order” in the region.
This could undermine public support for Australia’s alliance with the US, which remains the bedrock of our security.
Stepping up in the Pacific
The Pacific is where the strategic interests of China and Australia clash most directly. Morrison’s most important security policy decision thus far, announced at last year’s APEC summit, was to establish a joint naval base with the US and Papua New Guinea at Lombrum on Manus Island. This was partly aimed at denying the location to China, as well as establishing a forward ADF presence in the Pacific.
It is also notable that Morrison will visit the Solomon Islands on his first post-election overseas trip. China is inevitably part of the subtext here, as Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare is reported to be swaying towards switching allegiances from Taiwan to Beijing – yet another sign of China’s growing influence in the region.
Of course, there is more than geopolitics to the Pacific region and Morrison must be careful to demonstrate empathy and humility, given Australia’s patchy engagement with the region and the Coalition’s ambivalence on climate change – a major grievance for most Pacific nations.
Morrison’s appointment of Alex Hawke as both minister of international development and Pacific and assistant defence minister provides easy ammunition to critics, who will charge that the government’s Pacific “step up” is narrowly conceived through a geopolitical lens.
But Morrison appears to take the step up seriously, and a commitment to reversing the relative decline in Australia’s influence in its immediate neighbourhood (note: not “backyard”). A volatile political situation in PNG further demands a close watch on the Pacific.
Morrison was quick off the mark to congratulate Jokowi on Twitter, who promptly replied that Australia is one of Indonesia’s “greatest allies.”
By pulling off an unlikely election victory, Morrison is in the fortunate position of being the first prime minister for some time who is not looking immediately over his or her shoulder for political assassins within their party.
Morrison also has more bandwidth to devote to foreign issues than any leader since Kevin Rudd. He is disadvantaged, however, by his relative inexperience and the thinness of his front bench. That places a special burden on whoever will be advising Morrison on international security – a role sure to take on greater importance in his administration – to provide the counsel he needs and to wrangle the bureaucracy into line. For there will be no shortage of challenges ahead.
Ken Wyatt is the first Indigenous cabinet minister in the history of the Commonwealth government. That he was also the first Indigenous member of the House of Representatives when elected in 2010 as the member for Hasluck, WA, and is now the first Indigenous person to be minister for Indigenous Australians, makes his appointment especially significant.
Wearing his Noongar kangaroo skin booka, the significance of this appointment should not be understated. The short history of Indigenous participation in Australia’s political community is one of exclusion. But that exclusion was never the result of a lack of Indigenous persistence and ability.
Australian society was structured on the exclusion, or limited inclusion, of Indigenous people. Laws targeted Indigenous people for special treatment based on biological and sociological beliefs in their racial inferiority. These attitudes permeated Australian society throughout the protection and assimilation eras. These laws set effective limits on the participation of Indigenous peoples in Australian society.
Australian society has come a long way since the days of oppressive exclusion. But we still bear the heavy burden of a history of torment and powerlessness. Perhaps more than any other member of cabinet, Ken Wyatt will feel the weight of history, hope and expectation as he faces the challenge of Indigenous affairs.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison seems aware of the significance of this appointment. An example of this awareness is the name change from Minister for Indigenous Affairs to Minister for Indigenous Australians. This fits the narrative of social cohesion that Morrison has deployed to emphasise Australian unity in response to calls for Indigenous constitutional recognition. This rhetoric has persisted despite many emphasising that Indigenous constitutional recognition would unify and enhance Australian democracy rather than challenge it.
The Indigenous affairs portfolio has had a long and troubled history. Nigel Scullion’s tenure as minister was plagued by significant issues and dissatisfaction from within the Indigenous community. Multiple reports have been scathing of the Commonwealth’s policies, especially its flagship Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS) and Closing the Gap (CTG).
The 2017 review of the IAS by the Australian National Audit Office was particularly scathing. The report found a culture of arbitrary decision-making, a lack of transparency, poor record-keeping, a lack of oversight and accountability, no access to review of decisions, and a significant number of submissions having been lost.
The reviews of CTG were also scathing. Reports emphasised a continued failure to make significant inroads in targeted outcomes, despite over a decade of policy action.
Most striking, though, has been the clear frustration of the Indigenous community with a government that has ignored Indigenous peoples and worked according to dated and paternalistic practices.
This frustration resulted in the formation of a coalition of peak Indigenous bodies. This coalition in turn was able to obtain a negotiated partnership with the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) announced in December 2018.
COAG acknowledged a need for actions to:
align with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ and communities’ priorities and ambition as a basis for developing action plans.
This is important recognition of the desire of Indigenous peoples to control their own affairs through community-controlled delivery of service programs. COAG also recognised that “to effect real change, governments must work collaboratively and in genuine, formal partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as they are the essential agents of change”.
These policy concerns are part of the broader place and understanding of Indigenous peoples within Australia. This foundational issue informed the Uluru Statement from the Heart and its sequenced priorities of voice, treaty and truth. Fully aware of the difficult history and challenges ahead, the Uluru Statement from the Heart asked all Australians “to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future”.
The second anniversary of the Uluru statement has coincided with Wyatt’s appointment, National Sorry Day and Reconciliation Week. This timing has provided a unique opportunity to reflect on the importance of Wyatt’s appointment, successes to date, challenges ahead, and the acceptance of that invitation from the Uluru statement.
Wyatt faces a significant challenge. That cannot be denied. Any increased expectations on him because he is Indigenous should be tempered.
The challenge is bigger than the Indigenous affairs portfolio, as recent reports into Indigenous affairs have addressed. Solutions require partnerships across government, ministerial portfolios and the community to be successful. The challenges are not simply those of Indigenous peoples and the minister for Indigenous Australians. This is the responsibility of all Australians.
It is hard to say what Wyatt’s first priority as minister should be, as there are so many issues demanding attention. Indigenous youth suicide and the much maligned Community Development Program stand out. But the relationship between Indigenous peoples and other Australians, including the respect and recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, remains front and centre of the work ahead.
Wyatt brings a notable difference to the Indigenous affairs portfolio. He is experienced, having served as a senior public servant and as an MP since 2010. He has been minister for aged care and Indigenous health. He has also been involved in and is supportive of major reform agendas being called for in Indigenous affairs – implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart and achieving meaningful partnerships with Indigenous Australians.
Scott Morrison’s new ministry mixes stability with dashes of innovation, box ticking, and the rewarding of friends.
The Prime Minister has maintained his record number of women (seven) in cabinet, and created a new entry to the history books by appointing the first Indigenous cabinet minister, Ken Wyatt, who will become minister for Indigenous Australians.
Let’s hope this is not a poisoned chalice for Wyatt, who previously held aged care and Indigenous health in the outer ministry. It is one of the hardest jobs and the expectations and pressures on him from Indigenous people will be enormous.
Morrison has highlighted the priority he wants to give to improving program implementation, including and especially the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Rewards for friends
Stuart Robert, one of the Morrison friends and supporters promoted in the reshuffle, becomes minister for government services and minister for the NDIS, and is elevated to cabinet.
Robert will oversee a new Services Australia agency to “drive greater efficiencies and integration” of service delivery.
Addressing senior public servants the other day, Morrison lectured them on the need for “congestion busting” in the bureaucracy. The NDIS has had serious teething problems. Time will show whether Robert, who moves from assistant treasurer, can deliver on improving delivery. He personally has been the centre of political controversies and last year had to pay back about $38,000 for excessive internet use at home.
Ben Morton, a Morrison confidant who travelled with him in the campaign, becomes assistant minister to the prime minister and cabinet, one of those nice “in close” positions that are all about relationships.
Greg Hunt, much praised by Morrison during the election, adds to his health job the position of minister assisting the prime minister for the public service and cabinet, which gives him extra access to the PM’s ear.
Energy and emissions together
In a major move, Morrison has brought together energy and emissions reduction under Angus Taylor. This means Taylor, whose performance as energy minister has been underwhelming, has responsibility for the climate change area as well as continuing to try to achieve lower power prices.
The government skated through the election with climate change not having as much electoral bite as expected and high energy prices failing to extract the political toll they might have. But this is going to be a hard policy area in the coming term, as industry will be looking for more investment certainty, and consumers will want better results on prices. Taylor will need to lift his game.
As expected and despite Morrison’s commitment during the campaign, Melissa Price is out of environment and out of the cabinet. She’s now in the outer ministry, in defence industry, where she can continue to be neither seen nor heard. As Morrison put it with delicate understatement: “Melissa and I discussed her role and she asked to be given a new challenge and I was happy to give her one”.
Senators to New York, Washington
Two top level diplomatic jobs make space for appointments to the Senate. Mitch Fifield, who held communications, is off to be United Nations ambassador in New York, and Arthur Sinodinos, who seemed a monty for a cabinet post after his return from sick leave, will replace Joe Hockey in Washington. Morrison said Fifield’s exit was by choice – that he could have stayed in his portfolio.
Jim Molan, who unsuccessfully attempted to survive as a senator by appealing for people to vote for him “below the line”, will hope to get the NSW Senate spot; Sarah Henderson, who lost Corangamite, will seek preselection for the Victorian vacancy.
Paul Fletcher, with a background in Optus, takes over Fifield’s communications portfolio.
A minister for housing
The core economic team of Josh Frydenberg in treasury and Mathias Cormann in finance remains, with Michael Sukkar, from the hard right in Victoria, becoming assistant treasurer and housing minister. He will be in charge of implementing the Coalition’s election promise for a deposit guarantee for first home buyers.
Alan Tudge keeps population, cities and urban infrastructure while being promoted to cabinet.
Notably, responsibility for industrial relations (previously with the now-departed Kelly O’Dwyer), has been handed to Christian Porter, who stays attorney-general and becomes leader of the House. Porter immediately signalled his law-and-order priority in industrial relations: “my initial focus will be on the law enforcement aspects of the portfolio, ensuring adherence with Australia’s industrial relations laws, particularly on building sites across Australia”.
Promotions for women
Of the females in cabinet Marise Payne, who retains foreign affairs, is the new minister for women, while Michaelia Cash, who was in a heap of trouble last term, has employment, skills, small and family business, gaining employment.
As he promised, Morrison has elevated Linda Reynolds, whom he appointed to cabinet in March, to defence, formerly held by Christopher Pyne, who left parliament at the election. This is a huge job for Reynolds, regardless of her background in the military. Alex Hawke, who is close to Morrison, becomes assistant defence minister, and minister for international development and the Pacific.
Sussan Ley is back in cabinet after a break, taking the downsized environment portfolio. Anne Ruston is promoted to cabinet, as minister for families and social services. Karen Andrews remains in industry and in cabinet.
Victorian senator Jane Hume, with a background in the superannuation industry, becomes an assistant minister in that area; former whip Nola Marino also becomes an assistant minister.
The Nationals have lost a cabinet position, going from five to four – this results automatically from the change in their ratio within the Coalition – despite the fact they did well at the election.
Morrison confirmed that McCormack chose who went into the portfolios the Nationals have. Nationals sources say McCormack pressed for a better deal on portfolios, Liberal sources deny this.
Nationals deputy leader Bridget McKenzie has got agriculture (first womanin that job), which means David Littleproud, who previously held agriculture and water resources, ends up with water resources, drought and other bits and pieces.
Among those not moving, Peter Dutton stays in home affairs, Dan Tehan in education and Simon Birmingham in trade.
Morrison has put his stamp on his team without being radical. Notably, no one was dumped to the backbench.
And the chance of an early return for parliament
Meanwhile Morrison also hinted he was hoping that, despite the current advice, there was a chance parliament could be brought back before July 1 to pass the tax cuts so the first tranche could be delivered from then.
He told his news conference:
We are awaiting advice from the [Australian Electoral Commission] as to when the return of writs will be provided.
At present they’re saying that’s June 28 and there’s a possibility of that occurring earlier. That presents different opportunities for when [we] might be able to recall parliament.
Delivering those tax cuts right on time is something Morrison would really like to do. It’s a fair bet the AEC is being urged strongly to “deliver” those writs early, if it’s humanely possible.
Meanwhile on the Labor side, Richard Marles is now assured of becoming deputy leader to Anthony Albanese, after Clare O’Neil – who like Marles is from the Victorian right – said on Sunday she would not contest the deputy leadership.
The government’s tax relief package is shaping up as the first test of incoming opposition leader Anthony Albanese, with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg declaring on Friday it must be supported “in its entirety” when put to the new parliament.
But Albanese has only guaranteed support for the first tranche. As for the later cuts for higher income earners, “we will consider that,” he said on Friday.
But let me tell you, it is a triumph of hope over experience and reality that the government knows […] what the economic circumstances are in 2025 or 2023, in the middle of the next decade.
Appearing with Albanese on the Nine Network, Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said:
Albo, it would be remarkable if your first act as leader of the opposition was […] to oppose a long term package of tax relief – that would show a real tin ear for the Australian people”.
In an interview with The Conversation, Frydenberg refused to be drawn on what the government would do if unable to get the whole bill through.
It would, however, be hard for it to avoid splitting the bill – to hold out would deny the immediate relief pledged in the April budget.
All or nothing
Nor could Frydenberg say when parliament will meet to consider the legislation, although the government has effectively conceded it will not be in time for the promised July 1 start of the additional tax offset promised in the budget. (A smaller offset from last year’s budget will be paid from then.)
But Albanese said the tax cuts could be passed in time for July 1, because it would only need a couple of hours of sitting. “We’ll do a deal. I can do that. One speaker a side, and Bob’s your uncle.”
Frydenberg said Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe had highlighted the positive impact the tax cuts would have on household incomes.
“Let’s too not forget that $7.5 billion will flow to households in the coming financial year, as a result of these tax cuts,” Frydenberg said.
Tax cuts as good as rate cuts
“This benefit to households and the economy is equivalent to two 25 basis point interest rate cuts and is one reason why growth and household consumption is projected to pick up,” he said.
“The tax reforms we are putting to parliament are not just providing immediate relief, but leading to long term structural change. This will tackle bracket creep and reward aspiration.
“Earning more is nothing to be ashamed of and should be encouraged not punished. Rewarding aspiration is in the Coalition’s DNA and will be a fundamental driver of our policies in government.”
In his assessment of the economic outlook, Frydenberg had two messages.
He said in his discussions with some of Australia’s biggest employers, “I’ve been buoyed by their confidence and their desire to work with the government, to support continued economic growth and job creation”.
But the economy “faces significant headwinds. Trade tensions between the United States and China have increased, with the potential to negatively impact global growth.
“Were there to be another round of US tariff increases, the potential for which has been flagged publicly, the proportion of global trade covered by recent trade actions would double from 2% to 4%.”
Also, flood, drought and fires had taken a toll and the housing market slowdown was hitting dwelling investment and having an impact on consumption.
The challenges made the government’s agenda for growth, including tax relief, so important and time critical.
Asked whether the “headwinds” faced by the Australian economy were stronger than at budget time, when he also spoke of headwinds, Frydenberg said: “I think the tensions between China and the US have increased”.
Frydenberg spoke with the US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin this week and the two will meet in Japan at the G20 finance ministers meeting in a few weeks. Frydenberg stressed in the conversation the importance of free trade to Australia and its wish to see disputes resolved as amicably as possible.
Asked whether, if the economy deteriorated further, the government would be willing to live with a smaller surplus next financial year than the $7.1 billion projected in the budget, Frydenberg said, “that’s the amount that we’re committed to”.
He would not be drawn on the signal this week from Lowe that an interest rate cut was coming.
The Treasurer said the current unemployment rate of 5.2% reflected “strong labour market performance”.
While there are no plans for an overhaul of federal-state relations by the re-elected government, Frydenberg said he would work closely with the states on infrastructure and managing population.
I recently had cause to look at a large file of material I collected about Mark Latham during 2004. It is full of many of the same columnists who have just campaigned successfully for the return of the Morrison government. They were buzzing with excitement and hubris. News Corps’s Miranda Devine saw an omen in the news that arrived from Paris as the polls opened in Australia:
Jacques Derrida, the father of deconstructionism, died in Paris of pancreatic cancer, bringing to a symbolic end a destructive era of postmodern truth-twisting.
While no one else seemed to draw a bow quite so long, almost everyone could agree that John Howard’s victory was “historic” and that Labor was in “crisis”.
But The Australian’s Janet Albrechtsen’s response to that election brings us closest to the present. Howard’s very lack of a grand vision was precisely what had attracted voters to him, she claimed:
While the Left aches for a top-down vision imposed from above by some Whitlamite, Keatingesque leader, the rest of us prefer the bottom-up Howard version where we get to choose our own vision.
With Scott Morrison, we also have little choice but to choose our own vision if we want one. But Howard, it turned out, had plans if not a vision. He would use the Senate majority voters had sent his way to deal with Australia’s unions once and for all, through WorkChoices. At the 2007 election, Howard lost government as well as his own seat.
Labor supporters despairing of the result of Saturday’s election would do well to recall 2004. It is, to my mind, the closest parallel with what we have just seen. Labor took bold policies to the voters in 2004 and 2019. A Coalition leader managed to persuade enough voters that Labor couldn’t be trusted in economic matters.
Resources industries mattered for both elections, Tasmanian forests in 2004, and Queensland coal in 2019. Labor fumbled each, just as housing – interest rates in 2004, and property values and rents in 2019 – caused Labor grief on each occasion.
Shorten is no Latham, but there were question marks hanging over both leaders that told against their party. Shorten made his mistakes but ran a solid campaign in 2019, gradually hitting his stride.
Latham was no slouch in 2004, either; there has been a conflation of his behaviour after the campaign with that during its course. Writing straight after the election in The Australian, Paul Kelly had many criticisms of both Labor and Latham. But he also thought Latham had campaigned “very well” personally.
The more common comparison of 2019 has been with 1993, John Hewson’s “unlosable election”. There is, of course, something in that and, again, some hope for Labor.
There were reasons to imagine after the 1993 election that Labor was in for the long haul – that it would be the modern equivalent of the post-war Coalition with its 23-year run. The Liberals continued with a broken Hewson, had a brief and disastrous experiment with Alexander Downer, and then settled on a failed leader from the previous decade, Howard.
Few saw the Coalition’s future as bright after Keating’s win. But Labor fumbled its post-1993 election budget and, for all of Keating’s bravado in the house and all of his “big picture” hobnobbing with world leaders such as Clinton and Suharto outside it, the foundations of Labor rule were crumbling.
Is Labor’s “crisis”, if it is a crisis, worse than that faced by the Coalition in 1993 and Labor in 2004? If the ultimate test is electoral success, only the next election will allow us to answer that question.
But there are some alarming indicators. Labor seems to have lost votes to the far right in Queensland and preferences then flowed helpfully to the Coalition. Morrison was able to have his cake – getting the Liberals to put One Nation last south of the Tweed – while eating it north of the Tweed, where he had no sway over LNP preferencing and the Coalition reaped the rewards.
There is an emerging narrative that Adani mattered in key Queensland seats, not so much in its own right but for its wider symbolic significance for the future of coal mining in Queensland and Labor’s commitment to traditional blue-collar jobs.
If so, Labor has a lot of work to do to clarify its policy and messaging, in a state where coal has formed one of the foundations of the economy since the 1960s.
And it needs to do so without damaging its prospects elsewhere by equivocating on commitments to renewable energy and vigorous action on climate change. The old calculation that alienated Greens votes will come back to Labor might still be largely correct, but Labor has never won from opposition when the electorate votes for it only grudgingly.
It was ironic, in view of Labor’s problems in some regions and outer suburbs, that the two front-runners who initially emerged as Labor leadership contenders were members of the Left faction representing neighbouring seats in oh-so-hip inner Sydney. With Tanya Plibersek withdrawing – and another Sydneysider, Chris Bowen, also bowing out – the leadership is now likely to fall to the Left’s Anthony Albanese. Queenslander Jim Chalmers, from the Right, is considering whether to run.
The terms in which the post-election debate about Labor’s future has been carried on could have occurred after any election defeat in the last 50 years. But the foundational issue for Labor is not where it places itself on the political spectrum, or even whether it can win back voters in the regions, but whether it has any capacity to grapple with the inequalities and frailties that lax, opportunistic and unsustainable policy – much of it dating back to the Howard era – has embedded.
At the 2019 election, Labor proposed chasing revenue by winding back tax concessions to some categories of shareholder, property investor and superannuant. This approach was rejected at the polls. But economic growth and productivity seem unlikely to provide an alternative pathway for a future Labor government, unless there is a miraculous turn-around in the global economy.
No prospective Labor leader should be taken seriously unless he – and it seems it will indeed be a “he” – is at least able to articulate this dilemma.
As Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s ministry is sworn in today, we’re taking a closer look at the members of the newly revamped cabinet.
Some of the faces are new – Stuart Robert, for example, takes over the new portfolio overseeing the National Disability Insurance Scheme. And some of the portfolios have shifted, notably Sussan Ley replacing Melissa Price as environment minister.
We’ve asked our experts to appraise the performances of the ministers and highlight what could be the key challenges in their new roles.
In some cases, ministers hold more than one portfolio. To simplify the policy analysis, we’ve chosen a key policy area for which they’re responsible and asked our experts to analyse those.