The Politics    Monday, June 6, 2022

It’ll be all white on the night

By Nick Feik

Image of Opposition Leader Peter Dutton during a press conference in Brisbane yesterday. Image © Russell Freeman / AAP Images

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton during a press conference in Brisbane yesterday. Image © Russell Freeman / AAP Images

“Diversity” in Peter Dutton’s new shadow cabinet leaves a lot to be desired

Liberal leader Peter Dutton announced his new shadow cabinet over the weekend. “We have an incredible depth of talent,” he said, “not just on the front bench, but on the back bench as well.” But the list itself indicates rather the opposite. The Coalition’s ranks have never been so thin. Major portfolios have gone to MPs who in other circumstances would be deemed totally inappropriate, experienced former ministers have been axed, the number of “moderates” remaining is negligible, and Dutton has guaranteed himself further factional strife in the future by cutting key Morrison supporters out of the major portfolios. Alex Hawke is out entirely, and Stuart Robert has been relegated to shadow assistant treasurer. Dutton boasted of his shadow cabinet’s diversity on RN Breakfast this morning, citing the fact that, of 24 members, 10 are women. It’s telling that Dutton thinks this indicates some kind of equality – it is a higher proportion than the Coalition’s overall representation of women! But usually when people speak of diversity they are referring to other things too. Not Dutton. His shadow ministry is 100 per cent white.

What else can we glean from Dutton’s selections? Clearly, we shouldn’t expect much to change in the Coalition’s approach to policy or politics. Dutton will play hard, sticking to the right, and he doesn’t seem to have twigged that the public recently rejected many of his party’s defining values and characteristics. He has returned the education portfolio to Alan Tudge, despite the MP’s career still being under a cloud. Feel the respect for women behind that decision. In another particularly symbolic act, Dutton forgot to include a shadow arts minister on the initial list (apparently it will be Paul Fletcher). And he has appointed Angus Taylor as shadow treasurer. Angus Taylor!

Imagine thinking that Angus Taylor was the right person to manage Australia’s expenditure and revenues. For those with short memories, Taylor has been involved in numerous scandals in recent years. There was the $80 million government payment to a Cayman Islands company that he set up, for the right to future floodwater at well over the market price. (We still don’t know who was the ultimate beneficiary of this money.) There was his office’s use of an altered document to defame Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore. And the illegal clearing of native grasslands by a company co-owned by Taylor, with the attempted cover-up. Not to mention the millions (more than $100 million by some counts) of grants and other government contracts that have gone to his family’s companies during his time in parliament.

Even these things pale in comparison to the execution of his official ministerial duties in recent years. The Australian energy sector, over which Taylor had responsibility, is in catastrophically bad shape due to his mismanagement. Coal-fired power plants are falling over, large-scale renewables investment is down, Australia’s gas market is an export profit centre for multinationals while the Australian public pays through the nose, and Australia’s grid is completely ill-suited for a transition to renewable energy. Taylor was the minister for emissions reduction, a role in which he only obstructed action on climate change. And he was the man behind the alleged establishment of the national oil reserve. Remember that? It would have been useful over the past few months.

Dutton has given the climate change and energy portfolios to Ted O’Brien, a nuclear energy enthusiast. (Presumably he couldn’t find anyone in his party who supports clean energy.) Other key portfolios went to Simon Birmingham (foreign affairs), Jane Hume (finance), Andrew Hastie (defence), Karen Andrews (home affairs) and Michael Sukkar (social services and NDIS) and Anne Ruston (health). Former ministers who have been demoted include Linda Reynolds, Marise Payne, Melissa Price, Keith Pitt and, unsurprisingly, Richard Colbeck. The Nats have claimed back the trade portfolio (via Kevin Hogan) as one of its shadow cabinet positions, and Barnaby Joyce has been retained on the front bench, serving as shadow veterans’ affairs minister. There was no room for the widely admired Darren Chester, though.

One important thing to watch in coming weeks and months will be the Coalition’s response to the government’s plan to establish an Indigenous voice to parliament enshrined in the Constitution. Will the Coalition lend its support to a “yes” vote in a referendum? The new shadow minister for Indigenous Australians is Julian Leeser, a long-time supporter of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. For his part, Dutton says he is open to the idea of a voice to parliament, but he wants to see the details of the proposal. We would be wise to wait for the details of Dutton’s response too, given his track record on Indigenous affairs. Hopefully he makes his final call based on what is good for the nation, rather than choosing to wage yet another culture war over it.

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Nick Feik

Nick Feik is the editor of The Monthly.

@nickfeik

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