Shorten’s new shadow ministry could be worse, but not by much. The absence of Alannah MacTiernan is shameful, but we knew that would be the case after caucus voted on Monday, anyway let’s start with the positives.
Bowen is still Shadow Treasurer as he should be (well actually he should be leader but he ruled himself out for that) and he’s joined by Andrew Leigh as Assistant Shadow Treasurer and Tony Burke in Finance. This is a strong economic team, Burke and Bowen are experienced politicians, confident and effective communicators and highly literate in economics. Leigh is less experienced and confident than the other two, but that is to be expected in a much more junior portfolio, and Leigh shows enormous promise of becoming a formidable communicator with time. Given his Phd expertise in economics he is a natural for the position. If Shorten himself makes the grade then the ALP economics team should be able to mount a serious challenge to Hockey and co. It’s a refreshing change from the Gillard government, with Swan and Wong constantly deflecting to cliché’s like “Cut to the bone” and David Bradbury always reading from his notes .
I was also pleasantly surprised to see Catharine King get a big promotion. In the Gillard government we never got to see a great deal of King but what we did see of her tended to make one wonder why she wasn’t in a more senior portfolio. Conroy to Defence makes sense too, Conroy is an unpopular politician but by most accounts capable minister. Defence is a portfolio that tends to avoid getting dragged into partisan politics and shadow Defence ministers tend to get fairly low profiles, so it’s a good place for the last remaining rooster.
That’s about it for the strong points really.
Albanese keeps Infrastructure, loses Manager of Opposition Business but gains Tourism. He’s basically back where he was in 2006, which is a shame because he has grown enormously over these past seven years. Albanese is a former Deputy Prime Minister and the peoples choice for Labor Leader, he deserved something more. Plibersek for Foreign Affairs was predictable and uninspired. She’ll be competent at it but Shadow Foreign Minister doesn’t get to do anything exciting unless the government badly missteps like Downer in AWB. Plus she’s basically reduced herself to Bizaro World Julie Bishop now. Such a waste.
Kim Carr in Higher Education will be a pest but then Kim Carr is a pest wherever he goes. Still couldn’t he have gotten something less high profile, Minister for Agriculture perhaps. Speaking of Education, this is the real dud play by the opposition. When in opposition Education is Labor’s strongpoint. They are the socialist party, they get to bang on about our children needing more support without having to worry about finding dosh for it in the budget. Past Labor Shadow Education Ministers have been Stephen Smith, Jenny Macklin and Mark Latham, hard hitters and leadership contenders. Kate Ellis was probably a competent minister and will present a palatable alternative but she won’t land the blows that Smith and Macklin used to. Why not give it to Albanese or better still, what about Plibersek for Education? Imagine a Plibersek v Pyne contest, hell’s bells!
Jason Clare in Communications is ok. Clare has talent but he’s new and Communications is both one of the trickiest and one of the most important portfolios. Coupled with the fact that he’ll be pitted against Malcolm Turnbull, I feel Clare could have benefited from a year or two in a less technical portfolio.
Mark Dreyfus as Attorney General makes sense except he seems to be the Labor MP most guilty of fiddling his expenses. If he is found guilty of doing the dodgy then he is going to seriously blunt Labor’s attacks on the coalition. Given Don Farrell’s term as a senator expires in a year, why not plonk Farrell in AG for a while, give Dreyfus a holiday, then if he’s cleared of any wrongdoing, bring him back to replace Farrell in time for the election.
Jenny Macklin at sixty years of age stays in the Families portfolio she’s been in since 2006, hardly rings of innovation and fresh thinking does it? And Gary Gray as Shadow Minister for Resources, is that supposed to be a joke?
Mark Butler certainly has ability and he’s certainly someone to watch out for in the future but environment promises to be an exceptionally hairy area for Labor over the next twelve months, it’s not a place to gather experience, Shorten needs a seasoned campaigner in there. Actually it might be a good place for what will probably be Macklin’s final contribution to public life.
All and all there are mistakes a plenty but at the end of the day Labor have bedded down the fundamental economic portfolios well and along with leadership they are the ones that will be most important in holding the new government to account.