In terms of strategy, Bill Shorten’s Labor is clearly set on gaining sufficient momentum to get across the line at the 2019 election, or before, if prime minister Malcolm Turnbull cannot do a better job in uniting his party. The Coalition seems to have no discernible ambition except to hold on to power. It is all quite tiresome.
In the reshuffle of the cards, Shorten’s is the most interesting. Deputy leader Tanya Plibersek has been moved from foreign affairs, where she displayed little interest or working knowledge, to education – a portfolio sensibly expanded to include universities. Plibersek will be much more at home in this arena and can be expected to put her opposite number under considerable pressure, given that standards are falling in every tier of education and budgetary restraints limit spending. That said, education is primarily a state responsibility.
In an astute move, Senator Penny Wong has been promoted from trade and replaces Ms Plibersek at foreign affairs. The volatile Senator Stephen Conroy has been replaced in Defence by Richard Marles. Senator Conroy will be shadow minister for sport and special minister of state.
Shane Neumann is the new face at immigration, replacing Richard Marles, where there are many significant issues ahead. Tony Burke is shifted from finance to environment, water, arts and multiculturalism – jobs he held when Labor was in office. The finance spot is taken by a newcomer to the Opposition front bench, Jim Chalmers.
The prime minister made fewer changes to the Coalition team. The most notable was the move of one of his top ministers and allies, Christopher Pyne, from industry, science and innovation to the new portfolio of defence industry. This reflects the need to drive Navy shipbuilding, including the $50 billion allocated to 12 submarines now at the design contract stage with France. It is also a reflection of concerns that the defence minister, Senator Marise Payne has too much on her hands with strategic defence issues, as raised in the recent white paper.
Greg Hunt takes over Pyne’s job. After a nine year stint in environment, he is replaced by the ambitious Josh Frydenberg, whose portfolio now includes energy.
The National Party gets two more ministerial slots following a change in the balance of seats between the two parties. The most notable appointment to Cabinet is Senator Matt Canavan who, after only two years in Parliament, gets resources and northern Australia.
When MPs finally get back to Canberra after a break of almost three months, changes in superannuation are likely to be uppermost on the parliamentary agenda. Between now and then Government and Opposition are expected to have behind-the-scenes talks on changes they can agree upon to reduce the tax concessions presently available, a move designed to try and preserve Australia’s AAA rating status.