• John McDonnell

Cabinet reshuffle has a big focus on women

Scott Morrison’s reset cabinet reshuffle has put women at the centre of all the key decision making areas of the government but the question is: will it restore women’s faith in him? The answer is probably, no.


The desires of special interest groups are insatiable in the short term. If a concession is made it is always followed by a desire for more. In this case, 'more' means the dismissal of Andrew Laming from the Liberal party in the short term, and massive support for women in the budget in the medium term. Anything less than this will be deemed a failure to listen to women.


The reshuffle has also come at some cost to good government. The promotion of Karen Andrews to the mega-ministry of home affairs means the country has lost the best industry, science and technology minister we have had in a long time. Christian Porter hasn’t shown any predilection for matters industrial or scientific and is likely to be a part-time minister while his defamation case is going on.


The elevation of Stuart Robert to the other mega-ministry of employment, workplace skills, small and family business seems like a triumph of hope over experience. This is a core constituency for the government and if Stuart Robert is anything, it is not a vote-winner.


The prime minister has set up a new task force within the ministry to advise him on women’s issues. It is chaired by the minister for women, Marise Payne, and includes:

  • Anne Ruston who is minister for women’s safety and social services,

  • Jane Hume who is minister for women’s economic security, superannuation and assistant minister for finance,

  • Melissa Price, the defence industries minister who is now in cabinet

  • Michaelia Cash, the new attorney general and minister for industrial relations

  • Karen Andrews, the new minister for home affairs.

  • Senator Amanda Stoker, who is the minister assisting the minister for women - as well as assistant attorney general, and

  • the minister for the environment, Sussan Ley.

In his press conference the prime minister outlined the task force role:

“In relation to what I should probably call the primary minister for women, just to ensure that no one gets too carried away with the puns ... what I’m trying to bring together is a team of ministers and Marise Payne as Minister for Women can bring all that together as a leader of that portfolio team."

It is a reasonable argument, mounted by some women commentators, that instead of this cumbersome apparatus it would be simpler to have a stand-alone minister for women with a separate department, which could engage with women and, if necessary initiate cabinet submissions on issues of concern to them. That individual minister could also front the media and take the heat off the PM, which is something Marise Payne seems reluctant to do.