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Thus Spake Mungo: Factional warlords take the spoils of cabinet

It’s an old line, but a good one and unfortunately usually a true one: the front benches of parliament are top heavy with lightweights.

Of course the leaders deny it: they always lament the surplus of talents within their ranks, their regret that so many outstanding contenders cannot be shoehorned into their already swollen choices.

But in fact talent is only one of the criteria Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese seek, and not always the most important one.  The demands placed on them by geography and the factions, not to mention the need to reward favours rendered as they clamber up the greasy totem pole and hang on to the summit are paramount.

And there may be a perceived need to raise the profiles of some who are struggling in marginal seats. So perforce mediocrity cannot be avoided, although the leaders prefer to call it balance.

In Morrison’s case this is complicated by the coalition agreement; he has managed to reduce the Nationals’ numbers by one, but there are still six cabinet positions that must be filled from Cockies Corner, where the  gene pool is pretty sparse.

The unexciting Michael McCormack has picked an even more unexciting team, although at least Barnaby Joyce remains in the back paddock. In fact the same old faces are back in harness – McCormack calls that stability. Others might describe it as inertia.

‘Mediocrity cannot be avoided, although the leaders prefer to call it balance.’

And the Liberals are hardly more encouraging – the fact that two of the more competent, Mitch Fifield and Arthur Sinodinos, instantly decamped to greener pastures in the United States made the available options even more sparse.

Thus Morrison had to do some recycling – Stuart Robert  and Sussan Ley have been rehabilitated, having served their times in the sin bin. Michaelia Cash, also damaged goods, gets another chance and even Melissa Price is retained, although Morrison’s pledge to keep her as Environment minister was considered too absurd to contemplate.

In any case the environment has now been effectively trashed, with emissions reduction – by which Morrison means, but will not say, climate change – has been consigned to the coal-stained hands of Energy minister Angus Taylor.

Other non-performers have also hung on – David Coleman, Dan Tehan, and Linda Reynolds are just three who hardly deserve preserving, still less promotion. Others deserve points for trying: Karen Andrews, who retains the Science portfolio, has said she plans to bring scientists to Canberra so they can show the sceptics and denialists beyond any doubt that man-made climate change is real. Andrews also wants to go to Mars, a somewhat more realistic ambition.

But most seem content to just bumble along on their inflated salaries. And of course the massed choirs of assistant ministers are a veritable grab-bag of nonentities.

But at least Morrison had the excuse that much of the mix was inevitable – he had to select lightweights because they were the only class available.

Albanese was in a tougher position – he knew he had good people, but was unable to use some of the best and brightest because the factional warlords would not let him.

So Pat Dodson is not a starter – the father of reconciliation has been sidelined in Reconciliation Week. Andrew Leigh, once considered a possible future leader, has been dumped altogether because he remained steadfastly non-aligned.

Ed Husic had to stand aside because there were only six places allocated to the NSW right and Albanese insisted that Kristina Keneally must fill one of them. She is a worthy inclusion, but why not keep both? Sorry, cannot be done.

But at least Keneally’s rise meant that the superfluous Don Farrell could finally be shunted out of the deputy leadership of the senate. He will still clutter up the front bench, purely because of his notoriety as a war lord – his ability to frighten his colleagues. His opponents rightly ignore him – few could even name his portfolio responsibility (give up? special minister of State and Sport).

But Albanese was less worried about his indolence than his gender: he wanted two women on the leadership team and with Tanya Plibersek not available in the reps the senate was the only opportunity. The prize of deputy in the house was delivered by the factions in the form of Richard Marles, formerly best known as a performer in a comedy crosstalk duo with Christopher Pyne.

His new job will be rather more challenging. The vital task of a deputy is to be a link between the leadership and the backbench – not as an enforcer, which is the whip’s role, but as a canary in the mineshaft.

The deputy must sniff out and snuff out trouble before it becomes serious, and as such must be constantly on guard, but also trusted. Whether Marles is the right man may well determine whether the unity the caucus has maintained for nearly six years can hold after the demoralising loss of a second election.

Which brings us, inevitably, to the problem of Bill Shorten. On merit he obviously deserves to be on the front bench, but then so did Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull, and look where that led. However, rejecting him would not be a smart move either – just ask Tony Abbott.

Shorten has denied a report that he hoped for a comeback, but the reality is that his refusal to leave parliament altogether will be a magnet for media trolls looking for any sign of disloyalty, and given the febrile nature of such people, they will either discover or fabricate one.

Albanese will need to be on guard. The magisterial examiners of the Murdoch press have already demanded he pass more ‘tests’ than NAPLAN – he must, according to them, embrace most of Morrison’s agenda, including more privileges for the religious, passing all of Morrison’s pie-in-the-sky tax cuts for the wealthy, and embracing coal and gas – and, for good measure, nuclear power.

Albanese has vowed not to rush things, but that won’t stop the media from harassing him. He can only hope that the heavyweights in his entourage band together to protect him.

He has a better team than Morrison, but so did Bill Shorten. His opponents are not all in parliament.


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16 responses to “Thus Spake Mungo: Factional warlords take the spoils of cabinet”

  1. robot says:

    Wow. Not a squat on the Greens, the other members and dismembers of the team, the defacto government. Sarah just saying about putting a halt on any pollution that may derive from our exports, forgetting to mention that most of our imports come from China. Not worth mentioning I guess, the sisterhood, though that’s where 80% of our solar panels come from now. Most of the rest from Japan. No mention of their nuclear waste nor China’s coal power, with coal from here. Yes let’s punish our wicked big business for being so big and bad, and forgive the Chinese their slave labour, after all, they come to our knees and do like to please. Where are likes of Peter Sellers these days?

  2. Craig P says:

    Albo will be held to account , as he should be !! Both sides of parliament should never run and hide from the hard interviews ..the general voting public should expect no less ..albo is certainly more real than Shorten, however is is far more left leaning , which spells trouble in 3 years …and as for labor having a better team than Morrison , if this was the case then labor would be in government ? Would they not Mungo ? Also IAM NOBODY’S GIRL Kristina Keneally’s SHOCK appointment to her new portfolio is the most embarrassing move , i think in labor’s proud long history.. what were they thinking ? She has Zero experience in immigration, and totally embarrassed the labor party , and herself , in a interview on Melbourne radio !! Was asked a simple Question in relation to her new portfolio, what is the main threat to Australia’s border Security? Uh uh uh before answering with Russia!! ..and to think this Person could well have been at the forefront of National security and Border’s if labor were voted in ..she has absolutely no credibility in any NSW Government portfolio…as Dutton said , what going around comes around !!

  3. Gina says:

    Albanese has a very good front bench and I wish them all the best for the future. Albanese will be a great leader for all Australians and sooner the better.

  4. Albo is where he should have been pre-election &
    his ‘bench’ sits better with me than the coal sniffing
    Morrison trying to rule the ruins he’s created. As
    for Aussie security, since when hasn’t Russia been
    a security risk? Borders/media/ it’s all the same
    day. None of them, certainly China, deserves a
    cuddle. The most dangerous is Russia – always
    will be. Ask the USSR poets… the ones still
    living. Please note – I agree with Mungo. The
    Giddy Aunt is yelling ‘NO’ to Nuclear Power.
    Now that’s ‘quite rightly’.

  5. Rod says:

    In reply to Craig P , what experience did Morrison or Dutton had before hand- zilch. Really stop regurgitating the Dutton line, oh yea, he brought war criminals to Australia- he’s on top of his game, perhaps they are au pairs?

    • Craig P says:

      With respect Rod … please!! under the last labor Government 1200 died at sea ..50.000 came ashore no identification , and what no Crims amongst those that made it ?? And what was the Greens response to the drowning at sea ? Oh people die… hypocrites!! Not to mention the tax payers have forked out almost 12 Billion for labors mess …and still going !! Labor do not have a good track record on borders …the welfare bill has doubled in the last 10 years and the taxpayer’s are asking why !!! So yeah labor could have chosen better regarding the appointment of Keneally…so used to be a party for the workers not anymore ..

      • tuatha says:

        Small point, since you mentioned big scary numbers like the 50,000 boat people during the 6 years of the Labor interregnum – in that same period almost 1.5M people arrived as immigrants, not including dependents.
        And this year the expected annual immigration will be in excess of 3 times the total of 6 years ofsoi disant illegals.
        A sense of proportion helps.

  6. The Giddy Aunt & I had a chat because there are many
    reasons why Russia would have the land of OZ in its
    sights since the USSR is a rising military power in the
    Asia-Pacific plus the cyber use it has perfected was
    ‘in use’ during the US Election that gave the world
    a ‘trumpeting Trump’. Keneally would have been
    aware of its global reach while ScoMo & co would
    not have the insight to recognise what was written
    on the subway-wall. Quite dangerous what’s now
    happening in our area ie; artificial intelligence etc
    via social media & Russian support hackers mostly
    based in Moscow doing ‘their thing’. A slide show
    too from China, with love.

  7. Carole West says:

    Its seems a bit futile trying to classify these ministerial appointments using all the old tried, but no longer true, models. Voters showed that they want a show pony. Does Labor have any? A party with no policies. Well, Labor was way out in that one, bugger equality, the environment, pollution, multiculturalism, climate change, better health and education services. Labor will need to paddle like a frantic duck, to match what the voters have said they want. I cant see that Labor has learnt anything from losing the unlosable election. They’re going to need to lower their game considerably, and find a leader whose charisma could sell a golf course to trump, if they ever hope to return to government

  8. Brian Mcmahon says:

    Albo has a team of A graders, including KL.
    Morrison c graders at best. However what required is a game plan and proper leadership and coaching.

  9. Emily Stewart says:

    I have never heard that before Mungo “the front benches of parliament are top heavy with lightweights.”
    We could have a new line: :The front benches are all front and not much bench to stick the wood up the Opposition”.

  10. If the Voters want a damn ‘Show Pony’ it just goes to
    show how our brains have turned into jelly & our
    bleeding hearts want what Trump wants. Join the
    ‘change’ by being balanced while dealing with
    a mucked-up-leader who couldn’t care less should
    we sink or swim. The PM we’ve got is the kind of
    stand-over-man that ought to give us the ‘horrors’.
    Albo’s a saint in comparison.

  11. tuatha says:

    I was not greatly gruntled to hear the Great Equivocator, Albumin Agonistes, alleged leaderette of “Labor”, say that they party needs to move closer to the business community (wot dat?) and be aware of its concerns.
    Kinda sorta thangies like having to pay non starvation rate wages, meet award conditions, little stuff like that?

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