“It has been done in part to try and counter any challenge from Kevin Rudd” came Barrie Cassidy’s spin of our latest cabinet reshuffle. “Future leadership challengers are promoted” came the spin from Samantha Maiden. An act of revenge, according to Simon Benson and Alison Rehn at the Telegraph. Gillard’s reshuffle places technology and innovation to the forefront, reports Computerworld. Hang on, a positive report on a government reshuffle? Surely not. Those folks down at Computerworld haven’t received the memo. The one that says “Everything this government does is about neutralising Kevin Rudd”. The mantra. The Narrative.
Sometimes all the press gallery need is Michael Bay to direct and Hans Zimmer do to the music of the film Spillard – Gillard and Rudd’s Battle for Power. They shoehorn pretty much everything to that narrative arc, including this latest scene. But what if part of this reshuffle had nothing to do with a partly confected fear about the “30” Rudd supporters Cassidy mentions. What if the people involved might actually be good at their new jobs – or perhaps there is a new focus on technology and innovation after all.
To me it makes sense to appoint a former head of a union as Industrial Relations Minister in a Labor Government. As much as the AWA doesn’t impress me as a union – Paul Howes comes to mind – Shorten has been impressive, from various accounts, in his portfolio and with his ability to deliver clear messages and cut through media and Liberal spin. The same applies to Combet, who has been a much better salesperson for carbon pricing than Penny Wong. Anyone with an idea of Labor talent would have picked Combet as a candidate for a rapid rise in a government, along with Shorten. It also makes sense for the lawyer Nicola Roxon to be the Attorney-General and the excellent Tanya Plibersek as Health Minister. Other promotions, such as giving one to the Mr. Smooth of the NSW Right, Jason Clare, makes sense. He is definitely senior cabinet material – possibly even leadership some way down the track. I used to think that of Chris Bowen, but I do wonder whether Immigration may have damaged Bowen beyond repair. The upshot is, though, that it seems the people promoted to their new positions are competent and will be good ministers.
What doesn’t make sense is that the Telegraph, in speaking of “revenge”, doesn’t really spell out why it’s actually revenge that is being wreaked on the likes of Bill Ludwig and Kim Carr – aside from a vague claim that Carr is now a Rudd backer – this is despite the presence of Carr in the same faction as Gillard. It is also puzzling that the photo at the top of the page says Chris Bowen has been “spared”, while down below, it says that Bowen declined a promotion. Hardly being “spared”. The reality is that the people who have been demoted aren’t much good at making themselves heard in the current media environment, which is a crucial part of any Minister’s role. Peter Garrett is one such person who should have been demoted. If it is true that Gillard wanted Garrett to resign a ministry, than that wouldn’t be revenge either. Garrett has no power base. (In addition, if his reported threat to leave parliament isn’t a trigger to get the good preselectors of Kingsford Smith to replace him with Kristina Keneally in 2013, then I don’t know what is.)
The absurdity of “the reshuffle is all about Rudd and the faceless men” is all because the Telegraph, like most of the media – no matter the owner – conduct their own spin campaign that is more deadly and ingrained than any government could dream of enacting. This is why they always go straight to Tony Abbott for comment, because he feeds the Narrative they have built around this government. Proof of this is the “Faceless Men” meme the media and Abbott frequently spruik. It is getting a little tired – Shorten is far from faceless, nor is Howes. Shorten and Howes are about as faceless as Graham Richardson and Bill Kelty were in the Hawke Government days – every party has people who organise them. Nick Minchin was as much as “faceless man” (I remember him lurking behind the scenes when Abbott appeared on Q and A in Casula during the 2010 campaign), yet we didn’t see him referred to in that way.
The reshuffle is a positive step for a Government wanting to enact its agenda. The Ministers look like they will be (for the most part) good at their jobs. That should be the story, but it isn’t. It’s much less exciting than the narrative that media outlets like to spin.