Practicality trumps symbolism in Rudd's reshuffle

Kevin Rudd has taken some shortcuts in putting together an interim cabinet, but it's a lineup that looks capable of withstanding the election campaign.

Crikey

The ministry announced by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd this morning has a makeshift, temporary look; clearly this is a frontbench designed to get Labor to an election, with another reshuffle likely if Rudd pulls off a miracle and gets Labor over the line again.

Rudd's tasks in shaping a cabinet weren't just about rewarding supporters, extending an olive branch to Julia Gillard supporters and balancing factional and state representation; he needed to present an image of control and maturity, particularly given his theme of a transitional economy that needs a steady hand, and to address the gender issue: having ousted Australia's first female prime minister, an image of strong representation of women was necessary.

Meeting all of these goals with a significantly diminished pool of talent was always going to be impossible, so there are thus some fudges. The biggest is that Anthony Albanese takes Broadband as well as Infrastructure. The departments won't be amalgamated, so there'll be no return to the Department of Transport and Communications of the Hawke and Keating years. But it reflects the dearth of sufficiently senior talent to prosecute the government's case on the NBN; Albanese, at least, has been the House of Representatives minister responsible for Broadband for the whole period of Labor government and will be across the portfolio issues; now was not the time to promote an up-and-comer into the role, not when the NBN is a key part of Labor's election strategy.

The other is that relatively inexperienced figures find themselves in cabinet. Jacinta Collins from Victoria comes into cabinet, having been a parliamentary secretary under Gillard; so too Richard Marles, who left the frontbench after the March leadership debacle. But the inexperienced ones are generally kept to the more peripheral portfolios.

Rudd's economic team is the strongest one in the circumstances: Chris Bowen at Treasury, Penny Wong, unfortunately lauded as 'Dr No' by Rudd, remains Finance Minister; Bill Shorten, similar to Albanese, takes on Education with his existing IR duties – Shorten has big shoes to fill in terms of matching Peter Garrett's articulate spruiking of the reforms formerly known as Gonski (Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury picks up Shorten's Financial Services duties on the day that the Future of Financial Advice package of reforms commences); Kim Carr returns to Industry/Innovation and gets Higher Education as well, and doubtless has a brief to put together a more interventionist industry policy; the biggest risk is Mark Butler, whose successful stint at Mental Health has opened the way to move into Climate Change, as well as Environment, to oversee the transition from a carbon price to an emissions trading scheme.

The "national security" group, as Rudd portrayed it, remains intact with Bob Carr, Stephen Smith, Mark Dreyfus, Mike Kelly and Jason Clare all remaining where they are, at least until the election, when Labor will lose Stephen Smith.

Some Gillard supporters hit the fence; some didn't, and ditto Rudd supporters. Andrew Leigh cops it for being a prominent Gillard supporter, and he also had no faction to protect him. But Jan McLucas, whom Rudd dumped during his first term as prime minister, remains in Human Services. Rudd supporter Melissa Parke gets a long-deserved promotion to the new role of Minister for International Development. But Anthony Byrne, a key Rudd lieutenant, remains on the backbench, despite calmly shepherding data retention to a low-key end in his role as head of the joint committee on intelligence and security.

But this won't be the cabinet that governs Australia after the election if Rudd wins.

This story first appeared on www.crikey.com.au on July 1 . Republished with permission.

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