NEWS AND VIEWS
Thursday, November 29, 2007
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news .com.au - Not in the News Business
If anyone needs proof that the flagship website of the once great Australian newspaper company News Corp is not interested in the business of news, just have a look at the way it covered today's announcement by Kevin Rudd of his first ministry. Instead of a report on who was given what job there was a complaint by the anonymous author that Mr Rudd gave too much information. And this from the company whose chief executive is pretending to head a campaign to force governments to reveal more rather than less! Hypocrisy at the Murdoch Australian headquarters clearly knows no bounds.
The PM Shows he has Been a Bureaucrat
Kevin Rudd shows with the structure of his new government that he has a good understanding of how bureaucrats think and work and has avoided the temptation of pulling departments apart and reassembling them in new ways. By keeping most departmental structures intact he has avoided the disruption which normally accompanies a new political party taking over. Instead of spending the next few months scheming about how to preserve their own prestige and power, the nation's top public servants will be able to get on with the job of implementing Labor policies.
Nothing better illustrates this cautious approach of a man who obviously learned from his own experience as a public servant both in Canberra and Brisbane than the deferring of a decision on setting up the promised new Department of Homeland Security. Prime Minister Rudd has quietly pushed this off into the future as he gives himself time to consider whether this Labor policy was in fact a wise one. A betting man would say it will become one of the first of the non-core policies of his government but the country will be none the worse off for that.
The one major change in administration is the joining together of Education and Industrial Relations into one super ministry under Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard. The ministerial job of running it will surely be huge but Ms Gillard will have others ministers to assist her and the two public service halves probably can continue to operate as though they are separate departments.
Environmental matters similarly will assume an increased importance and the division here of responsibilities between the Department of the Environment and specialist sections within the Prime Minister's department will continue. There is the potential for friction down the track between Peter Garrett as Environment Minister and Penny Wong in control of Climate Change matters but it is apparent that Mr Rudd sees himself having a major role in this area which should keep rivalries under control.
If things do get difficult you can be sure that it is the Cabinet Secretary and Special Minister of State John Faulkner who will be given the task of sorting them out. Senator Faulkner will not have much of a day-to-day administrative role to concern him and thus plenty of time to look after the new Cabinet Implementation Unit with its role of ensuring that Cabinet decisions actually are carried out. Faulkner, of whom Rudd said this afternoon "I value his experience, I value his safe hands" is clearly going to be a key person in this new Team Rudd.
A Quartet of Colleagues Playing the Role of Factional Bosses
Perhaps we should call them the faction bosses you listen to when you pretend not to be influenced by the factions.
Prime Minister designate Kevin Rudd keeps asserting he chose his own ministerial team rather than having the selections of internal groups ratified by a token vote of the Parliamentary Labor Party.
There has, indeed, been a break with the Labor tradition but it is not nearly as major in practice as Mr Rudd suggests when selling the theory. Labor leaders, certainly from Bob Hawke onwards, have had the major say in who makes the ministry and who does not. There were always discussions between the leader and the leaders of the factions before the factions settled on their choices.
I cannot think of one person who made the ministry in the Hawke and Keating years who did so against the opposition of the Prime Minister.
Paul Keating put it accurately in an interview the other day on the ABC when he said: "Choosing your own front bench, in the end they're the same group .If caucus elect them or you appoint them, you might be three or four the difference, that's all. People pick themselves."
It is only around the outer fringes that factional preferences might be different to those of the PM.
To keep him in touch with such preferences, Kevin Rudd has had his own version of factional bosses to advise him. His deputy, Julia Gillard, from the left, and the Treasurer-to-be Wayne Swan, from the right, have had an input.
And operating in a more background way have been two faction bosses of years past – Senators John Faulkner and Robert Ray.
This pair have forged a perhaps unlikely alliance over the years that has overcome the difference in their factional background with the old boss from the NSW left - Faulkner – travelling with Rudd throughout the campaign and getting regular advice from Ray – the former boss of the Victorian right.
This quartet of colleagues have filled the role since Saturday that the factional bosses have played in the past but the outcome will be no different.
And when it comes to the Prime Minister claiming the right to fire, it was always thus whatever the Caucus rule book says.
In truth, the more things change the more they remain the same.