As a general rule, upon election, it usually took Parliamentarians some time to show what they were made of, and gradually those with the best minds, and the greatest capacity, worked their way up through the ranks. In political life that has always meant attaining ministerial appointment. If one was unfortunate enough to be seated on the ‘wrong’ side of the chamber, one gained ‘shadow’ ministerial experience.
Often the Minister, and his or her shadow, continued in the same portfolio, over a period of years. In this way each became expert in the area covered by the job. For example, when the Government was changed by the electorate, the Shadow Minister was able to step into the ministerial role almost seamlessly, and often with shared goals. That approach was known as bi-partisanship.
This served to illustrate the maxim that the Cabinet is there to serve the country, rather than the party. In the best of times the Minister and his or her shadow were able to work together, with the goal of achieving improvement, for the country as a whole. This really came to an end with the Howard Government.
How did Howard change things?
To many Australians John Howard was known as honest, earnest and relatively harmless. But that persona was carefully crafted. His Government was described as ‘mean and tricky’ in a report Howard himself commissioned, from the Liberals’ own president, Shane Stone. Howard was on a mission in 1996 to re-make Australia, into a faux Thatcherite society, and he used the oldest trick in the book – a faux ‘budget emergency’.
Serving as a beacon to Tony Abbott in 2013, Howard ‘manufactured’ his budget emergency, and embarked on a ruthless project to rid his Government of debt, by imposing strict savings on reluctant Ministers, and selling off the country’s silver.
Some of the more notable pieces of silver were the sale of Telstra, and the privatisation of both the Commonwealth Employment Service, and the Aged Care sector. The damage these own goals have caused, has cascaded throughout the years, and continues to cause the country to bleed.
This served Howard in two ways. Firstly he engineered “cabinet solidarity” on solving the ’emergency’, thus mandating even unreasonable savings, and he isolated the so-called ‘wets’, many of whom fought for their portfolios’ funding.
‘Wets’ was another term for moderates, who generally believed in a type of humanistic Conservatism, where they achieved economic goals, while protecting the poor. Some of his best performers were either sidetracked, or actively removed from the parliament, through selective organisational targeting.
The party is of course now stacked with time-serving, narrow, ideologically motivated drones, whose life experience is usually having served as an ‘adviser’ to a parliamentarian hack, or as a lawyer. That does not deepen the gene pool, but it does provide malleable cattle with which to work.
What happened to bi-partisanship?
Cabinet ministers are now chosen on the basis of loyalty to whomever is sitting in the prime ministerial chair. Talent is in such short supply that someone like Michaelia Cash, a former lawyer, is now a cabinet minister. Her portfolio area is Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business. With her unreasoning loathing for all things union, who could she work with, across the aisle? And working at a major law firm, as a taster for small business?
Angus Taylor is a former Rhodes Scholar, and he has worked as a management consultant for twenty years or so. He must know about risk management, or he would not have been employed in management consulting. And yet, in possibly the most important role he will ever be employed in, that of reducing Australia’s emissions in a pre-apocalyptic world, he adheres to the anti-science rhetoric, and apparent obfuscations of a global heating denialist. The only possible explanation for his behaviour is that he is unable to read a risk profile, or he cannot escape the shackles of his denialism.
The Hon Melissa Price MP was Vice President of Legal and Business Development for Crosslands Resources, an iron ore miner, before she was appointed to the Environment Ministry. As Peter Fitzsimons asked on television, “If a million dead fish at Menindee doesn’t attract your attention as the environment minister, what does it take?”
She also approved the Adani Mine’s groundwater plan just days before the 2019 election, although the plan was riddled with errors. It puts her in line to contest the Worst Environment Minister in History Award, with Greg Hunt and Josh Frydenberg also in the running.
Was the Prime Minister joking with these appointments?
One theme runs through this tiny sample of ministerial misfits. It can be read as being the best we can do, with a shallow pool to pick from, or did Morrison actually choose ministers who would so underperform that he could show his contempt for the very areas they represent.
Considering the IPA obsession for small-to-no-government, could this be, like Trump’s, a new low in ministerial commitment, as we head to low-to-no regulation, and really ugly capitalism?
Politics has been called, unkindly, show business for ugly people, but it should not be taken so lightly. Politics is a deadly serious undertaking, because it has real, tangible consequences. That is why it constantly surprises us that politicians think that they have some form of pass, that they will not be judged for their actions. Because their decisions often have real-world consequences.