Quick Post: Which party offers us the better cabinet?

I received a telephone call today from a friend complaining that I hadn’t completed my survey of minority parties.  I’m sorry.  I’m sorry.  The whole election has me thoroughly depressed.  I still don’t know how I’m going to vote — I can’t even work out if I should submit an invalid vote.

The nastiness of Australia during an election period surprises me.  Regardless of who wins, practically everything will remain the same.  We don’t have elections about radically different points of view.  I’ve been told a few times on Twitter that left wingers abusing Tories (like me) is justified because so much is at stake.  One person even told me that we were at war.  I thought a number of times that I should head down to the electorate of Batman to hand out HTV cards for the Greens, but figured that they’d have enough volunteers by now.  I’m not sure that I want any particular candidate to win; I think I’m more interested in seeing particular people — especially Feeney — lose.

But let us ask a question that we’re not really allowed to ask ourselves: which of the major parties has the better Cabinet?

Indigenous Affairs

The Coalition is offering us Nigel Scullion, while the ALP is offering somebody called Shayne Neumann.  Indigenous Affairs is one of those portfolios that really needs a heavy-hitter and, to their credit, the Coalition has made it a sole-focus portfolio.  This is in contrast with the ALP who, when in Government, had it buried in a portfolio with eleventy dozen other things under the truly woeful Jenny Macklin.  Even Neumann has the surprising mix of Indigenous Affairs and Ageing.

I don’t know enough about the portfolio to tell you who would do a better job, but at least Scullion has some sort of visibility on the issue.

Cabinet Secretary

Arthur Sinodinos for the Coalition v Jacinta Collins for the ALP.  Easy win to Artie.  This is one of the things that very few people will appreciate, but Turnbull’s engagement with Cabinet through the Cabinet Secretary position has been a breath of fresh air.  Turnbull knows how to govern much better than Rudd, Gillard, or Abbott did.

Even if you think Artie is a crook, he’s still light years ahead of Collins.  Jacinta is anti-marriage equality, anti-abortion, and just a generally terrible person.

Minister for Education and Training

I hate that these two portfolios are together, but that’s a lengthy debate for another time.  The Coalition offers us the solid, but a bit wimpy, Simon Birmingham.  The ALP has Amanda Rishworth on Education, Sharon Bird on Vocational Education, and Kim Carr on Higher Education.

The ALP strategy here is somewhat bananas.  If you have three people in the portfolio, you’d expect them to achieve three times as much.  Instead, you get a mishmash of unstructured policy contributions, and nobody really holds Birmo to account.  The National Students Union does more to challenge debate than any of the three ALP spokespeople.  And, let’s all face it, Kim Carr is utterly hopeless.

Birmingham is the winner here.

Minister for Social Services

Christian Porter for the Coalition facing off against half a dozen people for the ALP.  I think this one is a no-score draw on account of this really being a question about the structure of the ministries.

Minister for Employment

Michaelia Cash has the unenviable position of being a hard right woman in parliament.  She’s up against Brendan O’Connor who has the ‘Employment and Workplace Relations’ portfolio for the ALP.

It is a testament to Cash that she can hold her own against somebody as astute as O’Connor, but it also makes me wonder if this is the sort of debate we want to have in the Employment portfolio.  Cash seems to be about getting people into jobs (that is, making more labour available to employers on terms favourable to employers); while O’Connor seems to be about protecting people who are currently in jobs.  I don’t think I’d go to either of these two people for a discussion about theory, or higher order principles.  I associate both of these people with slogans.  This is a hard call, but I suspect that O’Connor would be the better minister.

Minister for Women

Michaelia Cash is this minister here as well, while the ALP doesn’t have the position in the Shadow Cabinet (their spokesperson is in the outer ministry).

I guess that’s a default win to Cash.

Minister for Communications

This portfolio baffles me.  Mitch Fifield for the Coaltion; Jason Clare for the ALP.  Clare is, by any measure, a star performer and somebody that I could easily see as a future ALP leader.  Senator Fifield is a solid politician, but he really struggles to lead debate.  We might ask what we want out of the Communications portfolio, and does Fifield’s approach better suit that area… maybe.

Given the choice between solid and outstanding, we should go with outstanding: Jason Clare.

Minister for Arts

Fifield is here again up against Dreyfus from the ALP.  Here, Fifield has been anti-good and a net cost to the Coalition’s election campaign.  Utter, utter nonsense has been allowed to flourish in campaign debates that Fifield didn’t squash.  Had the ALP appointed somebody actually competent to the portfolio, Fifield would have really been a casualty of the election.  Lucky for the Coalition, Dreyfus is a non-entity.  This left outspoken Lefties from the arts sector to push the campaign against him, probably to the advantage of the Greens party.

Both lose.

Minister for Defense

Marise Payne has done an outstanding job in the portfolio and I hope she retains the portfolio after the election.  Defense is going through both structural and cultural changes, and Payne has hit the right balance between needing to be seen and just getting things done.  For some inexplicable reason, Stephen Conroy is the shadow minister.  Easy win to Payne.  I wouldn’t trust Conroy anywhere near the defense of the country.

Minister for Health

I’m ignoring the ‘Aged Care’ and ‘Sport’ portfolios because both really, really annoy me.

Sussan Ley is from the Coalition and she seems kind of invisible.  I don’t know if this is because the Australian media agitates for a more presidential-style system, thus escalating health policy debates to the Prime Minister’s portfolio.  Catherine King from the ALP is also just as invisible.

Another no score draw, but leaning towards Ley.

Minister for the Environment

Books should be written about Greg Hunt.  Greg Hunt, Philip Ruddock, and Joe Hockey are three politicians that you just wonder how they’d have turned out differently had John Howard not won the election in 1996.

As Minister for the Environment, Hunt is so firmly backed into a ridiculous position that he, had he any sense at all, should resign.  Some people feel that to remain a political contender, you need to gradually climb up the ministerial ladder.  Instead, jumping out of the cabinet in order to rebuild your political identity can be much more effective.  Hunt staying in the Environment has resulted in a blur of contradictions, incoherence, and straight up absurdity such that we could reasonably ask if the Coalition actually has a Minister for the Environment.

The ALP has Mark Butler.  Oh dear.

Tangent time!  This is where political parties should make better use of our parliamentary democracy.  There are a few portfolios — and some portfolios that I would create — where it would be better to appoint somebody from a different party.  If I were Turnbull, I’d have appointed Larissa Waters to the Ministry, or Wish-Wilson or McKim.  In the first instance, it allows Turnbull to show his commitment to Cabinet Government and his willingness to create a vibrant democracy.  In the second instance, it allows Turnbull to destroy the threat of the Greens as a political force by giving them responsibility and watching them flounder helplessly with it.  Of course, that means letting the Greens into Cabinet where they might make some level of mischief, but it would pay dividends in the longer term.

So Mark Butler won this one by virtue of not setting anything on fire.

Minister for Immigration (and Border Protection)

This portfolio is a mess.  The only way to fix it is to abolish it and subsume it within Foreign Affairs.

Petter Dutton has been a disaster.  I don’t understand the strategy of having him remain in Cabinet.  It’s probably to appease the hard right crazies within the Coalition.

But Richard Marles?  Holy God, we’re all in trouble.  I think Marles wins this, but only by virtue of not being Dutton.

Minister for Resources, Energy and Northern Australia

The Minister for what now?  Frydenberg is a massive disappointment from the Coalition, and Gary Gray from the ALP is as bland as his name suggests.

For all the hullabaloo about the ‘Minister for Women’ needing to be a woman, the current Minister for Northern Australia is from Victoria and the Shadow Minister is from Western Australia.  Australian politics is weird.

I have no idea.

Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science

If you’d asked me a year ago to say that Christopher Pyne was a good parliamentary performer, I’d have laughed at you.  The recent debates against Kim Carr have converted me.  He is a weird, weird man, but he’s really come into his own in the Industry, Innovation and Science portfolio.

The Science portfolio, we should remember, is a complete joke of a portfolio.  Its one and only job is to coordinate a bunch of committees and sit on the CSIRO board (an organisation that I’d happily abolish).

Kim Carr has the ‘Research, Innovation, and Industry’ portfolio for the ALP.  He also holds the Science portfolio within the Leader of the Opposition’s portfolio.  I wonder if that means Shorten wants to move Science into PM&C if he is elected.  I doubt it.  I imagine it was done for the optics: ‘Science is within my portfolio because I’m so committed to Science.’

Anyway, Kim Carr is a thoroughly underwhelming politician.  Pyne for the win.

Minister for Infrastructure and Transport

Darren Chester is another of those invisible people in the Cabinet.  His ALP counterpart is Albanese, so it’s weird that Chester hasn’t been able to create a profile out of being a foil at the very least.  It could be that Infrastructure and Transport don’t feature much in public debate at the Commonwealth level.  It’s usually a big State election issue, and the Coalition seems not to be terribly concerned with big infrastructure questions.  The ALP wants magic trains; the Coalition just wants States to keep everything on the level.

For that reason, it’s hard not to think Albanese is the better Cabinet performer.

Minister for Finance

Speaking of portfolios that I would abolish…

I can’t work out Mattias Cormann.  What is his beef?  I do not know what his beef is.  Why is he a politician?  What’s with him?

Embarrassing confession: I thought that Penny Wong was still the Shadow Minister for Finance.  It’s actually Tony Burke.  I must admit to liking Tony Burke.  He got spun a crap sandwich with the Immigration portfolio when Rudd was trying to punish him; instead, Burke was determined to make some headway into a discussion about how we can balance a wide variety of tensions.

Burke is probably the better Minister.

Minister for Rural and Regional Things

What is this portfolio?  What does Fiona Nash do?  Does the ALP have an equivalent portfolio, or is it bundled in with Joel Fitzgibbon’s ‘Give me a portfolio or I’ll trash the place’ brief?

Minister for Small Business

Kelly O’Dwyer gets a lot of gendered hate.  She’s also a terrible person.  Michelle Rowland also gets a lot of gendered hate, but she seems to be a really great person.  ‘Small Business’ is a joke of a portfolio, so it’s hard to tell who would be the better minister.  My gut instinct is that Rowland is probably going to be it.


By some cruel fate, two terrible Immigration ministers have risen to take over the Treasury.  How did this happen?  Immigration is supposed to be where Prime Ministers send politicians to kill their careers.  I trust neither ScoMo nor Bowen.  Both seem to have been involved with the coups against party leaders.

ScoMo is probably the more effective parliamentarian, but only because politics is a hypermasculine fight.  Bowen is probably the more reasonable of the two but a thoroughly inept communicator.


George Brandis has had a lot of struggles to find his feet as a minister.  In many senses, he doesn’t have the temperament for it.  Consider, for example, when he held a press conference to explain changes he was making to a bill after negotiating with the cross bench: instead of saying ‘Here’s the big picture’, he rattled off individual amendments as written in the new bill.  It was absurd.  He has also struggled to deal with his ideological commitments, eventually stating that the more he knew, the more conservative he was becoming.  His need to appease groups such as the IPA has been a particular weak point.

But Dreyfus is really struggling in the shadow portfolio.  Say what you like about Brandis, he is his own worst enemy.  Brandis leads the debate, even when that debate isn’t going his way.  Dreyfus really struggles to get his voice out into the public, hiding instead behind the bedeviled Human Rights Commission and other advocacy groups.  I think the most we’ve heard from Dreyfus in the portfolio was when he was caught using parliamentary entitlements to pay for family skiing trips.

So this is a win for Brandis.

Minister for Trade and Investment

Steve Ciobo is in this role up against Penny Wong.  There’s no way that Penny Wong can’t win this match.  There are very few people in parliament who have her skill.  I think Wong would win in a match up against pretty much anybody in the Coalition.  Even when I’ve disagreed with utterly everything that Wong is saying, I still think she’s an excellent politician.

Minister for Foreign Affairs

Julie Bishop has somehow managed to stay Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party despite eleventy dozen changes to the Leadership.  Resilience, determination, and straight up political maneuvering have made that possible.  Being in the Foreign Affairs portfolio, I think, has markedly improved her profile as a politician and softened the edges of attacks on her character.

Despite that, I still think I prefer Tanya Plibersek from the ALP.  If I were asked whom I’d trust more to represent Australia’s interests on the global stage, I would probably err on the side of Plibersek.  I think she’s more measured and skillful as a negotiator.

Minister for Agriculture

Barnaby Joyce from the Coalition against Joel Fitzgibbon from the ALP.  Nope.

Prime Minister

I don’t know.  I just really don’t know.

This hasn’t helped.  I still don’t know how I’m going to vote.


Author: Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher is a Canberra-based blogger and policy wonk who writes about conservatism, atheism, and popular culture. Read his blog at OnlyTheSangfroid. He tweets at @ClothedVillainy

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s