Turnbull’s reshuffle undermined by Barnaby Joyce’s ousting of Darren Chester

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Malcolm Turnbull said he regretted having to drop Darren Chester from his frontbench line-up.
AAP/Daniel Munoz

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Prime Minister’s Malcolm Turnbull’s reshuffled cabinet has five new faces, but one of the Nationals’ best performers, Darren Chester, has been unceremoniously dumped by his party leader Barnaby Joyce.

Christian Porter replaces George Brandis – who quits parliament to become high commissioner to London – as attorney-general, in an extensive frontbench overhaul that Turnbull said focused on the dual themes of economic growth and jobs and national security. Porter is a former Western Australian attorney-general.

The new faces in cabinet are the Nationals’ freshly elected deputy Bridget McKenzie, Michael Keenan, Dan Tehan, John McVeigh, and David Littleproud.

McVeigh and Littleproud entered federal parliament only last year, and have leapt straight from the backbench, although McVeigh served as a minister in the Queensland parliament.

Joyce, who takes Chester’s infrastructure portfolio, told him he had to go from cabinet on geographic grounds. Both Chester and McKenzie – whom Chester strongly backed to become deputy over Joyce’s preferred candidate Matt Canavan – are from Victoria, a state in which the Nationals only have four federal MPs.

When quizzed at his news conference about Chester being dropped, Turnbull indicated it was Joyce’s call – the Nationals’ leader gets to choose the party’s ministers – saying pointedly: “Barnaby Joyce will no doubt be able to explain this directly”.

“Plainly the Nationals have a very large component of their partyroom that comes from Queensland and Barnaby was keen to see that reflected in their representatives in the cabinet,” Turnbull said.

Turnbull said Chester had been an “outstanding minister” and he regretted he was no longer on the frontbench.

Chester told a news conference he had been offered a position of assistant minister but he had declined it.

He made it clear he felt he had been treated badly. “I don’t think my loyalty to the leadership team has ever been questioned. I’ve gone above and beyond on many occasion to support the prime minister and the deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce,” he said.

Joyce has also sacked Keith Pitt, who is from Queensland, as an assistant minister.

The catapulting into cabinet of the inexperienced Littleproud, who is from the Queensland seat of Mananoa, to replace Chester, is likely to stir resentment among Nationals who have waited much longer for promotion.

McKenzie, who as deputy Nationals leader goes automatically into cabinet, will become minister for sport, rural health and regional communications.

Keenan, previously justice minister, moves to human services; Tehan goes from veterans’ affairs to social services, held before by Porter; McVeigh takes regional development; while Littleproud gets agriculture and water resources.

As earlier announced, Peter Dutton has a new mega portfolio of home affairs. Two junior ministers and an assistant minister will sit under him. Angus Taylor becomes minister for law enforcement and cyber security, and Alan Tudge will be minister for citizenship and multicultural affairs. Alex Hawke is assistant minister for home affairs.

Michaelia Cash, who has been employment and workplace relations minister, becomes minister for jobs and innovation, which includes the industry area.

Arthur Sinodinos, who has been industry minister, is being treated for cancer and asked not to be considered for the new ministry, while making it clear he hoped to return to a senior ministerial or other government role later.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann adds permanently to his responsibilities the post of special minister of state, which he has recently overseen in a temporary capacity.

Cormann, seen as very competent in negotiating with the Senate crossbenchers, also steps up into the Brandis’ role of Senate leader.

In changes in the outer ministry, Craig Laundy has been promoted to minister for small and family business, workplace and deregulation. This will include direct responsibility for workplace relations, recently a controversial area for Cash who, however, retains overall responsibility as the senior portfolio minister.

Turnbull said Cash, Laundy and Zed Seselja, who becomes assistant minister for science, jobs and innovation, “will work together to make sure we harness the jobs of the future through new industries and small business”.

Paul Fletcher stays as minister for urban infrastructure, with some expanded responsibilities.

Michael McCormack, a National, moves from small business to veterans’ affairs and defence personnel.

Backbencher Melissa Price is elevated to become assistant minister for the environment.

The Nationals’ David Gillespie moves to a newly created role of assistant minister for children and families.

Victorian National Damien Drum will be assistant minister to the deputy prime minister.

David Coleman becomes assistant minister for finance, while Luke Hartsuyker moves to become assistant minister for trade, tourism and investment.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said: “All that we can deduce from this reshuffle is that the civil war which is a fact of life in the Liberal Party has now infected the National Party. How else can you explain a competent minister like Darren Chester being demoted?

“What we have here is we have a prime minister and a deputy prime minister who are engaging in such hubris and arrogance that they are now just punishing the people they don’t like in their own party.”

The Conversation


Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Brandis off to London, as Turnbull prepares his reshuffle

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George Brandis has served as attorney-general since 2013.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Attorney-General George Brandis will become Australia’s high commissioner to London in a ministerial reshuffle set to be announced on Tuesday.

Brandis’ appointment opens the way for Malcolm Turnbull to elevate deputy Senate leader Mathias Cormann to Senate leader, and gives the Turnbull government a cabinet vacancy.

But it leaves Turnbull with the problem of being seen to have adequate representation from Queensland in the cabinet. A Queenslander will have to be elevated, but the choice is limited and there is no standout candidate.

Queensland is a vital state for the Coalition at the next election.

While Brandis is a Liberal, the Nationals have been agitated for months about the need to boost Queensland’s representation in the ministry – and Brandis’ departure complicates the issue further.

Favourite to get Brandis’ portfolio of attorney-general is Social Services Minister Christian Porter, who was attorney-general in the Western Australian government before he moved to federal politics.

The Nationals, who appear confident of holding their five cabinet spots despite losing a parliamentary seat to the Liberals, now find themselves with an excess of Victorians in cabinet.

Their new deputy, Bridget McKenzie, is from Victoria, as is existing cabinet member Darren Chester. The party has only four federal MPs from that state.

It is speculated that Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, who is agriculture minister, will move to Chester’s infrastructure portfolio in the changes.

The reshuffle also is likely to see the return of former health minister Sussan Ley, who resigned after allegations of the misuse of travel entitlements, which she denied. Turnbull wants to promote women and personally likes Ley.

The reshuffle comes as the government is behind Labor in the 25th consecutive Newspoll. The ALP leads 53-47% on a two-party basis, unchanged from the previous poll.

Turnbull said recently he regretted referring to Tony Abbott losing 30 consecutive Newspolls when he launched his 2015 challenge against the former prime minister.

The ConversationAbbott replied that he will respond to this Turnbull statement of regret, but he wanted to leave it until after Saturday’s Bennelong byelection.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australian Politics: 5 December 2014 – The Great Reshuffle

New Threats, Old Enmity Pummel Nepal’s Christians

Armed group that forced over 1,500 government officials to quit now threatens pastors.

KATHMANDU, Nepal, September 16 (CDN) — A year after police busted an underground militant Hindu organization that had bombed a church and two mosques, Nepal’s Christians are facing new threats.

An underground group that speaks with bombs and has coerced hundreds of government officials into quitting their jobs is threatening Christian clergy with violence if they do not give in to extortion demands, Christian leader said.

The Nepal Christian Society (NCS), an umbrella group of denominations, churches and organizations, met in the Kathmandu Valley yesterday (Sept. 15) to discuss dangers amid reports of pastors receiving phone calls and letters from the Unified National Liberation Front (Samyukta Jatiya Mukti Morcha), an armed group demanding money and making threats. The group has threatened Christian leaders in eastern and western Nepal, as well as in the Kathmandu Valley.

“The pastors who received the extortion calls do not want to go public for fear of retaliation,” said Lok Mani Dhakal, general secretary of the NCS. “We decided to wait and watch a little longer before approaching police.”

The Front is among nearly three dozen armed groups that mushroomed after the fall of the military-backed government of the former king of Nepal, Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah, in 2006. It became a household name in July after 34 senior government officials – designated secretaries of village development committees – resigned en masse, pleading lack of security following threats by the Front.

Ironically, the resignations occurred in Rolpa, a district in western Nepal regarded as the cradle of the communist uprising in 1996 that led to Nepal becoming a secular federal republic after 10 years of civil war.

Nearly 1,500 government officials from 27 districts have resigned after receiving threats from the Front. Despite its apparent clout, it remains a shadowy body with little public knowledge about its leaders and objectives. Though initially active in southern Nepal, the group struck in the capital city of Kathmandu on Saturday (Sept. 11), bombing a carpet factory.

The emergence of the new underground threat comes a year after police arrested Ram Prasad Mainali, whose Nepal Defense Army had planted a bomb in a church in Kathmandu, killing three women during a Roman Catholic mass.

Christians’ relief at Mainali’s arrest was short-lived. Besides facing threats from a new group, the community has endured longstanding animosity from the years when Nepal was a Hindu state; the anti-Christian sentiment refuses to die four years after Parliament declared the nation secular.

When conversions were a punishable offense in Nepal 13 years ago, Ishwor Pudasaini had to leave his home in Giling village, Nuwakot district, because he became a Christian. Pudasaini, now a pastor in a Protestant church, said he still cannot return to his village because of persecution that has increased with time.

“We are mentally tortured,” the 32-year-old pastor told Compass. “My mother is old and refuses to leave the village, so I have to visit her from time to time to see if she is all right. Also, we have some arable land, and during monsoon season it is imperative that I farm it. But I go in dread.”

Pudasaini, who pastors Assembly of God Church, said that when he runs into his neighbors, they revile him and make threatening gestures. His family is not allowed to enter any public place, and he is afraid to spend nights in his old home for fear of being attacked. A new attack occurred in a recent monsoon, when villagers disconnected the family’s water pipes.

“Things reached such a head this time that I was forced to go to the media and make my plight public,” he says.

Pudasaini, his wife Laxmi and their two children have been living in the district headquarters, Bidur town. His brother Ram Prasad, 29, was thrown out of a local village’s reforms committee for becoming a Christian. Another relative in the same village, Bharat Pudasaini, lost his job and was forced to migrate to a different district.

“Bharat Pudasaini was a worker at Mulpani Primary School,” says Pudasaini. “The school sacked him for embracing Christianity, and the villagers forced his family to leave the village. Even four years after Nepal became officially secular, he is not allowed to return to his village and sell his house and land, which he wants to, desperately. He has four children to look after, and the displacement is virtually driving the family to starvation.”

Since Bidur, where the administrative machinery is concentrated, is safe from attacks, Pudasani said it is becoming a center for displaced Christians.

“There are dozens of persecuted Christians seeking shelter here,” he said.

One such displaced person was Kamla Kunwar, a woman in her 30s whose faith prompted her husband to severely beat her and throw her out of their home in Dhading district in central Nepal. She would eventually move in with relatives in Nuwakot.

Pudasaini said he chose not to complain of his mistreatment, either to the district administration or to police, because he does not want to encourage enmity in the village.

“My religion teaches me to turn the other cheek and love my enemies,” he said. “I would like to make the village come to Christ. For that I have to be patient.”

Dozens of villages scattered throughout Nepal remain inimical to Christians. In May, five Christians, including two women, were brutally attacked in Chanauta, a remote village in Kapilavastu district where the majority are ethnic Tharus.

Once an affluent people, the Tharus were displaced by migrating hordes from the hills of Nepal, as well as from India across the border, and forced into slavery. Today, they are considered to be “untouchables” despite an official ban on that customary practice of abuse and discrimination. In the villages, Tharus are not allowed to enter temples or draw water from the sources used by other villagers.

Tharus, like other disadvantaged communities, have been turning to Christianity. Recently five Tharu Christians, including a pastor and two evangelists, were asked to help construct a Hindu temple. Though they did, the five refused to eat the meat of a goat that villagers sacrificed before idols at the new temple.

Because of their refusal, the temple crowd beat them. Two women – Prema Chaudhary, 34, and Mahima Chaudhary, 22 – were as badly thrashed as Pastor Simon Chaudhari, 30, and two evangelists, Samuel Chaudhari, 19, and Prem Chaudhari, 22.

In June, a mob attacked Sher Bahadur Pun, a 68-year-old Nepali who had served with the Indian Army, and his son, Akka Bahadur, at their church service in Myagdi district in western Nepal. Pun suffered two fractured ribs.

The attack occurred after the Hindu-majority village decided to build a temple. All villagers were ordered to donate 7,000 rupees (US$93), a princely sum in Nepal’s villages, and the Christians were not spared. While the Puns paid up, they refused to worship in the temple. Retaliation was swift.

The vulnerability of Christians has escalated following an administrative vacuum that has seen violence and crime soar. Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, who had been instrumental in the church bombers’ arrest, resigned in June due to pressure by the opposition Maoist party. Since then, though there have been seven rounds of elections in Parliament to choose a new premier, none of the two contenders has been able to win the minimum votes required thanks to bitter infighting between the major parties.

An eighth round of elections is scheduled for Sept. 26, and if that too fails, Nepal will have lost four of the 12 months given to the 601-member Parliament to write a new constitution.

“It is shameful,” said Believers Church Bishop Narayan Sharma. “It shows that Nepal is on the way to becoming a failed state. There is acute pessimism that the warring parties will not be able to draft a new constitution [that would consolidate secularism] by May 2011.”

Sharma said there is also concern about a reshuffle in the largest ruling party, the Nepali Congress (NC), set to elect new officers at its general convention starting Friday (Sept. 17). Some former NC ministers and members of Parliament have been lobbying for the restoration of a Hindu state in Nepal; their election would be a setback for secularism.

“We have been holding prayers for the country,” Sharma said. “It is a grim scene today. There is an economic crisis, and Nepal’s youths are fleeing abroad. Women job-seekers abroad are increasingly being molested and tortured. Even the Maoists, who fought for secularism, are now considering creating a cultural king. We are praying that the political deadlock will be resolved, and that peace and stability return to Nepal.”

Report from Compass Direct News