KIM WINGEREI Ministry of Mediocrity

In the (in)famous words of Donald Horne: “Australia is a lucky country run by mainly second-rate people who share its luck.” The new Morrison Government is a mostly uninspiring group lacking in diversity and bereft of vision. A staggering lack of diversity making it impossible to match experience, competencies and interests to suitable portfolios.

The “new Morrison Government” was announced last week – the usual shuffling of ministerial positions, doling out rewards for election performance, demoting others, taking care of those close, keeping enemies closer.

The Cabinet now counts 23 Ministers across 28 Ministries, with another 18 Assistant Ministers on the outer (Cabinet). Not forgetting the sole envoy (for The Great Barrier Reef) – Warren Entsch – although forgetting him and the reef is probably the point of his new role.

The good news is that there are now all of 7 women in Cabinet, a record still short of anything to be proud of; and Barnaby Joyce is not back. Mitch Fifield, that most ineffectual of Ministers for Communications – and he is not in meritorious company – has gone, too.

The appointment of Ken Wyatt as Minister for Indigenous Affairs is a first for an indigenous person; to be applauded as a major step-up from his predecessor – Nigel Scullion – a London born former fisherman more likely to share DNA with Vikings than Truganini.

Other than that, not many new faces and most of the previous ministers were returned or given added portfolios.

The announcement of the Services Australia Ministry is a much needed step in the direction of improving and integrating digital services delivery from Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support agencies. The appointment of Stuart Robert as the Minister in charge, however, does not instill confidence in the ability to execute. Robert is most notable for his over-spending and other transgressions, apparently now all forgiven in the spirit of the Pentecostal beliefs he shares with his boss.

Marise Payne, who has yet to find her feet under the weight of the Foreign Minister’s desk is now also Minister for Women. I believe it is the fist time a Foreign Minister has had additional rersponsibilities. Hopefully it’s not a reflection of how foreign women’s issues are to the top echelons of the Liberal Party.

Linda Reynolds retains a role in Defense. She is one of the very few given portfolios commensurate with her experience – 30 years of stellar service in the Army Reserves.

Paul Fletcher is now the Minister for Communications, Cyber Security and the Arts – the latter a curious inclusion in a portfolio he otherwise seems well suited for. Paul does have real telecommunications experience as a former Optus executive. He is well respected in the industry and maybe he can start to address the rabble that the NBN has become now that its principal wreckers – Turnbull and Abbott – are gone.

Otherwise, looking at the education and work backgrounds of the Ministers appointed it is easy to see the difficulty in finding the right people for the right roles.

The diversity of backgrounds in this ministry is staggering in its absence. It is a reflection of politicians in general, a similar analysis on Albabane’s cabinet to follow.

Of the Cabinet members a full third (8) has a law degree, another 12 have a business or similar degree – 3 have both business and law – almost three quarters of Cabinet come from a business oriented background.

It is not surprising that few (3) come to these roles with no further education beyond High School, but what is peculiar is that only three (Christian Porter, Jane Hume and Dan Tehan) have an actual political science degree and only one (Ken Wyatt) come from a background in public service.
There is only one engineer (Karen Andrews), a single teacher (Bridget McKenzie) and two policemen (Jason Wood and Peter Dutton, who has a Business degree, too).

The average age of the Cabinet is 51 which is probably what you’d expect, the youngest are 38 (4) and one of the “oldest” (Richard Colbeck) is 61 and in addition to Minister for Sport he is also the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians and Minister for Youth. Would have been easier if they just called him Minister for the Ages.

The average tenure as full-time politicians is 16 years, not including time spent prior to being elected preparing for it, working as political advisers, speech writers, chiefs of staff and within the party machinery.

Almost half of the Cabinet came to politics from consulting roles – several, including Angus Taylor and Greg Hunt from McKinsey & Company – one of the most prestigious and secretive (and best paying) consultancy firms in the business world; and a regular consultant to Government, including the $20 million Medicare review initiated in November 2018.

Angus Taylor was a partner at McKinsey’s before moving on to another consultancy – Port Jackson Partners – where he promoted the coal seam gas industry to the Victorian Government. Emission Reduction has been added to his Energy Portfolio – political satirists will be feeding on that for years to come. Taylor’s role in “Watergate” remains a mystery, and as a partner at McKenzie’s Taylor would have been earning 3 to 4 times as much as he now does as a minister, not that there is anything wrong with that…

But the majority of the ministry are people who have spent almost their entire working life in or around politics.

Dan Tehan spent a year as a farmhand, but otherwise Dan has not worked outside of politics. There is no evidence of him having any experience in his portfolio of Education, arguably one of the areas in most desperate need of reform.

Simon Birmingham – Tehan’s predecessor and now Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment does have an MBA where he would have learned about the theories of two of those areas, but has no working experience of either.

Greg Hunt (lawyer) retains the Health portfolio for which he had no relevant experience in the first place and little to show for in the time he’s held it.
Mark Coulton and Nola Marino share the responsibility of Regional Development and have both worked as farmers. The only other farmer in the Cabinet is Sussan Ley who is now the Minister for the Environment – a portfolio for which she seems to have no particular affinity based on her bio.

There are no nurses or other care givers, no doctors, almost nobody with any background in the trades, nobody from manufacturing, no retailers and in a country that relies so heavily on income from mining, not a former mining executive in sight (Melissa Price – Minister of Defense Industry – did do legals for a mining services company).

Equally absent are bankers and financiers. And why would they, the pay is low in comparison, the hours long and influence on policy settings assured through donations and lobbying, anyway. It is unclear to see where the impetus from implementing the recommendations of the Banking Royal Commission will now come from.

The ministers and their assistant ministers (and envoy) constitute almost 20% of the total number of elected representatives in Parliament. As such it’s a good sample to reflect the fundamental problem of politics, not just this Cabinet.

These are not “our” representatives. This is not a cross-section of people reflecting the diversity of Australia. They may represent their electorates, many are true champions for their localities, but once elected they are all party delegates.

Politics is a career, and if you don’t want to make it a career, you don’t stand much chance of making it in politics. These ministers work for their parties, their main aim is to win elections every three years. Reading through the carefully vetted CV’s of these 41 people reveals few standout performers, no crowning achievements of policy glory that changed a nation. It largely reflects people who understands the game of politics, getting the right roles to get ahead and eventually find a seat in which to be elected.

This is not to say many – one would like to think most – started out with all the right intentions of serving the people in a democracy; only to discover that we live in a particracy – a Government by the insiders, for the benefit of themselves and their donors, poorly reflecting the will of the people.

But as Waleed Aly pointed out in a recent article, the Australian people are not so much conservative, but cautious. He is right, and the people in this Government are certainly not change-makers.

Kim Wingerei is a former business-man, turned writer and commentator. Passionate about free speech, human rights, democracy and the politics of change. Originally from Norway, lived in Australia for 30 years. Author of ‘Why Democracy is Broken – A Blueprint for Change’. Follow @ kimwingerei.com / Twitter @kwingerei

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One Response to KIM WINGEREI Ministry of Mediocrity

  1. Mack Redgrave says:

    In terms of representation, these Ministers are, by definition, in the top 10% of income, & probably also the top 10% of wealth. I would suggest that most of them probably come from comfortable middle-class families in nice suburbs and were privately educated.
    I would suggest that until they were forced to, most would not have spent much time at all mixing with citizens from the left side of various demographic bell curves. Ordinary people are explained to them by analysts and tacticians, by focus group reports and graphs.
    Their backgrounds and recent performances suggest to me that they are there to please their party and their donors, not Australian citizens.

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