View from The Hill: aged care to cabinet, Tehan to trade in Morrison’s modest reshuffle

Lukas Coch/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The most important changes in Scott Morrison’s limited reshuffle are centred on two vital and controversial issues – aged care and trade – that will severely test the government in coming months.

Aged care has been elevated to cabinet and put in the safe hands of Health Minister Greg Hunt, who has performed strongly during the pandemic.

The current Aged Care Minister, Richard Colbeck, retains responsibility for aged care services, including delivery of residential and home care packages and the regulation of the sector.

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With the royal commission due to deliver its final report in February, Hunt will spearhead the policy response. Importantly, he will carry the government’s public case as it works through one of the most difficult policy challenges of early 2021.

The choice of Dan Tehan for trade is logical. He comes with an extensive background in the area before his parliamentary career, including serving in the Foreign Affairs and Trade Department, and as an adviser to a former trade minister, Mark Vaile.

Tehan arrives in the portfolio – shed by Simon Birmingham who is now Finance Minister – when trade tensions with China are an all-time high, and Australia is looking to negotiate trade agreements with Europe and the United Kingdom.

Tehan’s education portfolio goes to Alan Tudge, who will also have responsibility for youth (previously under Colbeck). The recent Four Corners expose about Tudge’s private life hasn’t affected his ministerial career. Questioned at his news conference on Friday, Morrison said those matter related to years ago.

Morrison has also elevated some spear carriers of the right.

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Queensland senator Amanda Stoker is promoted from the backbench to become Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General. ACT senator Zed Seselja moves from being an Assistant Minister to become Minister for International Development and the Pacific.

Rewarding the Liberal party right might be politically useful next year, if Morrison needs the conservatives’ forbearance for a shift on climate policy.

Andrew Hastie is also from the Liberals’ conservative wing, but his move up from the backbench will be seen through a foreign policy prism.

He has been an outspoken hawk on China and the Chinese will be particularly noting his appointment as Assistant Minister for Defence.

Hastie has been well respected on both sides of politics as chair of parliament’s influential intelligence and security committee.

A former soldier in the SAS who served in Afghanistan, he will potentially be able to help manage the fallout from the Brereton report on alleged Australian war crimes, which is proving difficult for the government.

The new Immigration Minister will be Alex Hawke, Morrison’s strong factional ally. This position has been in limbo for a year, in the hands of an acting minister, while David Coleman has been on personal leave.

Coleman is to become Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, an area Morrison has given high priority in the pandemic.

It is notable Ben Morton, who is very close to Morrison, has not been moved up to the junior ministry. He stays as Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister and Cabinet, where he can have a bird’s eye view on many matters, as distinct from the narrower focus demanded by a ministerial portfolio.

Morton formally takes over from Hunt to become Assistant Minister for the Public Service — a role he has had anyway while Hunt has been preoccupied with the health crisis. A former Liberal party director in Western Australia, Morton will also have the politically-sensitive position of Assistant Minister for Electoral Matters.

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Jane Hume moves up from assistant minister, with expanded responsibilities as Minister for Superannuation, Financial Services and the Digital Economy.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher adds urban infrastructure and cities to his responsibilities, but loses cyber safety.

Morrison emphasised key portfolios relating to the economy and security remained unchanged, as did the positions held by the Nationals, and the number of women in cabinet.

He said the changes reflected a “very strong focus on stability in key portfolios, together with a commitment to bring forward some new talent”.

The new Morrison ministry list can be found here.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Morrison likely to elevate aged care to cabinet, as government boosts its funding by $1 billion

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government will inject a further $1 billion into aged care, most of it for home care packages, in Thursday’s budget update.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is also likely to elevate the troubled policy area to cabinet, in his imminent ministerial reshuffle.

Some 10,000 home care packages will be provided, costing $850 million, in the latest funding – 2500 packages will be released across each of the four levels of care.

The funds – announced Wednesday and included in Thursday’s Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook – come ahead of the final report of the royal commission into aged care due in February. An interim report more than a year ago was scathing about conditions in the sector.

Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck is in the outer ministry and struggled during the pandemic. COVID’s largest death toll was in the residential aged care sector – approaching 700 deaths out of the total Australian deaths of just over 900.

Colbeck, a Tasmanian senator, was with Morrison in Tasmania on Tuesday and it is understood the Prime Minister went to Colbeck’s Devonport office after a function.

The reshuffle is expected to be modest, with most interest in who gets the trade portfolio, presently held by Simon Birmingham who took over finance when Mathias Cormann left parliament.

Trade is high profile with the attacks by China on a range of Australian exports. Education Minister Dan Tehan has been widely speculated for the post.

Tehan has experience in the area. He served in the Foreign Affairs and Trade Department; in 2002 he was seconded to the office of trade minister Mark Vaile as trade adviser. Later he worked for the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry as director of trade policy and international affairs.

If Tehan moved to trade, that would leave the education portfolio open – with the new incumbent facing the problems of a higher education sector that has taken a beating from the pandemic, which has blocked overseas students’ entry to Australia.

David Coleman, who has been on leave from the ministry for personal reasons for a year, is expected to step down from it in the reshuffle.

There is some room for backbench promotions to the frontbench.

The government said the new aged care money would bring to nearly 50,000 the number of home care packages funded since the commission’s interim report, at a cost of $3.3 billion.

In September more than 100,000 people were waiting for packages. The government says 99% of people on the home care waiting list are already receiving some level of support package.

The latest funding also includes $63.3 million for increased access to allied health services and improved mental health support for people in residential aged care.

An extra $57.8 million will be provided for aged care under the National Partnership on COVID-19 Response. This will strengthen protection, including training and and support in infection prevention and control.

There will be $8.2 million to extend the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre until June 30.

The budget update will show the projected deficit not to be as large as forecast in the budget only two months ago.

The update is expected to adopt conservative assumptions about the iron ore price which has skyrocketed recently.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Yes Prime Minister… Dan Tehan withdraws his attack on Daniel Andrews’ leadership

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison was on the ball – and quickly on the phone. Hardly had education minister Dan Tehan finished giving Victorian premier Daniel Andrews a bollocking on the ABC’s Insiders than he received a call from the PM.

The Conversation understands that in his exchange with his leader, the minister’s tone was apologetic.

Not too long afterwards came a mea culpa from Tehan, the like of which we rarely see in politics.

Morrison might have wanted Tehan to deliver Andrews a touch-up, but not to go at him with a sledge hammer.

The federal government has been frustrated from the get-go with Andrews, who (with NSW’s Gladys Berejiklian) early on insisted on very tough measures generally, not just on schools.

Morrison would have liked schools fully open all through. As the weeks have passed he’s become increasingly annoyed with the slow progress back to normal. It’s a national patchwork, but the Victorian government is the most conservative, with online learning set to be maintained through term two, and classrooms available only for children for whom other arrangements can’t be made or who are vulnerable.

The federal government has direct control only over non-government schools and it has been using a mixture of threats and bribes – with Tehan the wielder of the (funding) whip and giver of (funding) sugar – to bend them to its will.

It’s against this background that Tehan gave his ill-judged interview on Sunday.

He was caught in knots from the start.

Parents should listen to the medical expert panel – made up of federal and state health officers – which said it was safe for schools to be open, he said.

But he struggled when confronted with Morrison’s April 16 advice that they should listen to their premiers. “If you live in Victoria, listen to the Victorian premier,” the PM said then.

David Speers put to Tehan that Victoria’s chief health officer’s advice had been not to re-open schools because keeping children at home could help suppress community transmission (it’s important to note the Victorian health advice is directed specifically to this issue of limiting wider community spread).

Speers asked: “coming back to what the Prime Minister said, should parents listen to their premier or not?” “This is a question for Dan Andrews,” Tehan replied, in a futile attempt to evade.

After more toing and froing, Tehan lashed out. “If the national medical expert advice is saying that it’s safe for children to be back in the classroom – then why wouldn’t they be?

“This is a failure of leadership by Dan Andrews, let’s be clear about that”.

Andrews was “jeopardising the national consensus”, Tehan said; unlike other states, Victoria had no plan. The children, especially the most disadvantaged, were suffering “and I think it’s time that we seriously call Dan Andrews out on this”.

It was actually Tehan who found himself called out – or called up.

Morrison has been biting his tongue over Andrews – a premier who is Labor, popular, and can’t be bullied – because the PM knows the benefit of the national cabinet and has learned, on occasion painfully, that the way to operate it effectively is to avoid over-reacting to differences within it.

In unfortunate timing, immediately after the Tehan outburst came a report that a Melbourne primary school will close from Monday to Wednesday after a music teacher has tested positive for COVID-19.

Tehan’s statement amounted to an abject admission he’d exceeded his brief.

Praising the co-operation of leaders at the national cabinet, he said it was “important to note that this will not always result in all states and territories and the federal government agreeing on all points.”

The consistent advice from the expert medical panel had been that schools could be fully open, he said.

“Notwithstanding this position, the Victorian Chief Health Officer has provided more cautious advice to the Victorian Premier, who has been acting on this advice in relation to Victorian state schools.”

Tehan said he, and many other politicians, had heard countless stories of parents struggling with home schooling, and he referenced the problems of children missing out on their education.

The minister maintained he’d been thinking of these things “when I expressed my personal frustration that more schools weren’t starting more in-class learning in my home state.

“It was this frustration that led me to overstep the mark in questioning Premier Andrews’ leadership on this matter and I withdraw”.

He promised to “continue working constructively with my state counterparts as they run their state school systems to support them with the best medical and education expert advice the federal government can offer”.

Once again, the Morrison government has had to bow to state opinion, and this time it’s been particularly embarrassing.

Whether Andrews’ stand on the substance of the issue will ultimately be seen by parents as the correct one is another matter.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.