Howard Reshuffle: Ellison Promoted, New Minister From WA

Senator Chris Ellison has been promoted to Cabinet to replace Senator Ian Campbell as Minister for Human Services.

Senator David Johnston, Minister for Justice and CustomsAnnouncing the ministerial changes today, the Prime Minister, John Howard, also brought Western Australian Senator David Johnston (pictured) into the Ministry to take Senator Ellison’s previous portfolio of Justice and Customs.

The ministerial arrangements preserve the balance of representation between the House and Senate and between the States.

The changes follow the weekend resignation of Senator Ian Campbell, following revelation of a 20-minute meeting he had last year with Brian Burke.

  • Listen to Howard’s Press Conference (18m – transcript below)

Text of media release from Prime Minister John Howard.

Ministerial Arrangements

Following the resignation of Senator the Honourable Ian Campbell as Minister for Human Services, His Excellency the Governor-General has agreed to my announcing the following changes to the Ministry.

Senator the Honourable Chris Ellison will be appointed Minister for Human Services and become a member of the Cabinet. Senator Ellison has had extensive experience in a number of portfolios, most recently as a highly successful Minister for Justice and Customs.

Senator David Johnston will be appointed Minister for Justice and Customs. Since his entry to Parliament Senator Johnston has made a strong contribution in the Senate where he has been an active and effective representative of the people of Western Australia.

Senator the Honourable Eric Abetz, Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation will be appointed Manager of Government Business in the Senate.

The Honourable Joe Hockey MP will replace Senator Campbell as a member of the Expenditure Review Committee.

I want to thank Senator Campbell for his work as Minister for Human Services and prior to that as Minister for the Environment and Heritage and as Minister for Local Government, Territories and Roads.

The swearing in of new Ministers will take place on Friday, 9 March 2007.

Transcript of Prime Minister John Howard’s press conference.

HOWARD: Ladies and gentlemen, I want to announce that with the permission of his Excellency the Governor-General I can inform you that Senator Chris Ellison will replace Senator Ian Campbell as Minister for Human Services. Senator Ellison has served with great ability in a number of portfolios. His position as Minister for Justice and Customs will be taken by Senator David Johnston, a senator from Western Australia. Senator Johnston has now been in the parliament for some five years, he’s been a very effective senator. He has a long experience both as a lawyer and as a leading official in the Western Australian division of the Liberal Party. He did practise for a period of time in Kalgoorlie and he’s had a diverse practice in his legal career. He will be a very effective new minister and I congratulate him. I know that both he and Senator Ellison will because of the circumstances of these promotions occurring will perhaps not react with the same degree of exuberant celebration as sometimes occurs, but we should not lose sight of the fact that it’s a very important career change for both of them. Senator Ellison will add to Cabinet with not only his experience but also his general contribution to debates on issues that come before the Cabinet.. The only other two changes that are consequent upon this very minor rearrangement of the Ministry is that I have decided to appoint Senator Eric Abetz as Manager of Government Business in the Senate and I have decided to appoint Joe Hockey, the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations to membership of the Expenditure Review Committee of Cabinet to replace Senator Campbell.

I should point out to you that because he comes from a state that has been in the news I have discussed at some length with Mr Johnston his links with various people. He was of course associated as many people were with the former Senator Chrichton-Brown, but that association ended some time ago, but more importantly his associations with the former Premier of Western Australia have not in any way been inappropriate and he indicated to me that the last time was a chance encounter at a radio station on the evening of the 2001 election. He was however an associate of Mr Grill’s some 20 years ago, they were in the same law firm and I’ve been given chapter and verse of all of that and it’s an association that hasn’t had any currency for I think close to 20 years and I’m satisfied after a very careful discussion with him that there are no issues that arise there from, but I thought it better to announce that upfront rather than get a series of questions from the ever vigilant Parliamentary Press Gallery into my office to deal with these matters.

There is just one other issue though, unrelated to the Ministry and unrelated to Mr Rudd and Mr Burke that I want to mention and that is that as such is the threat posed by Mr Garrett to the coal industry of Australia if he were ever to become Minister for the Environment, that even the Premier of New South Wales, Mr Iemma, in an election campaign and alive therefore to the sensitivities of attacks on the coal industry has distanced himself from remarks that have been made by Mr Garrett and made it plain that at a state level he’s a strong supporter of the coal industry. I think what this does is to underline the very legitimate concern that many employees in the coal industry have at the prospect that Mr Garrett might one day be in charge of environmental policy in this country and that would have adverse effects on the coal industry, not only as Mr Iemma is obviously concerned about in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales but in all the other coal mining districts of Australia. When you have somebody responsible for the environment who is talking in negative terms about the expansion of the coal industry as well as his comments about the uranium industry it is not surprising that even within his own political party you are getting tremors of concern. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, given that you’ve been making a few checks, have you also in relation to developments in Queensland, which appear to be related to the last state election campaign, checked with Santo Santoro who played a key role in the state election campaign to make sure that he’s on the up and up, has clean hands?

HOWARD: I’m not aware of anything adverse about Senator Santoro.

JOURNALIST: Given the developments that emerged this morning?

HOWARD: But what developments are you talking about?

JOURNALIST: The printing, the complications…

HOWARD: They have not in any way involved him, according to my advice.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, when were you made aware that search warrants were being executed on the offices of members of your government?

HOWARD: In accordance with past practice, my office was informed about it on Friday.*

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, given that Ian Campbell resigned for a somewhat innocuous meeting with Brian Burke, how comfortable are you that a professional relationship that David Johnston had with Julian Grill, Mr Burke’s business partner, should not also conspire against him?

HOWARD: Well it’s 20 years old.

JOURNALIST: So it’s a matter of age?

HOWARD: No, it’s a matter of circumstances and time, and I think it is absurd to suggest that because he had a professional association with Mr Grill 20 years ago, he’s not qualified to fit in the ministry. But that means that somebody who may have been a law partner of somebody in a very large law firm, and I can think of one years ago, Sydney, who is convicted of an offence could never run for public office, I mean that is plainly ludicrous.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, did you think there was any need to disclose to the public that these MPs had had their offices raided before the news was broken by a newspaper in Queensland?

HOWARD: No, it’s an operational matter. The disclosure is not something that I should engage in, it’s just a practice that the leader of the party is informed and that’s happened in the past.

JOURNALIST: Are you confident the three MPs….haven’t done anything wrong?

HOWARD: I have no reason to doubt their denials.

JOURNALIST: Have you spoken to them about this?

HOWARD: No I haven’t personally spoken to them, no.

JOURNALIST: Will you?

HOWARD: Do I intend to? No I don’t. Look these are operational matters and I think it is better in a sense that they be dealt with at arms length.

JOURNALIST: Mr Howard, Mr Rudd has proposed to deal with the issue of influence peddling around the Brian Burke saga, a registration system for lobbyists and more transparency, do you support such a system?

HOWARD: Well I don’t really think tightening the rules is going to change the situation at all. Look, in the end it’s a matter of judgement and it’s a matter of personal responsibility. There is no instinct for proper behaviour in these matters, you can’t legislate it. I’m not a great believer in substituting rules and regulations and registers for personal responsibility, it is all a matter of judgement. You can have all the elaborate rules under the sun and yet in particular circumstances, a particular contact or a particular pattern of behaviour can be inappropriate, doesn’t matter what the rules are. It may come technically within the rules but not be appropriate, so I don’t think the solution to this is to have a more elaborate register. I mean everybody must have known the poor judgement involved in somebody dealing with Mr Burke as Mr Rudd did and I don’t think the absence of a register or a set of rules would have altered one iota his conduct.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister there’s no charges laid here, there is a police investigation, but why would it in any way compromise a police investigation for you, as Prime Minister, to assure yourself that nothing untoward has been going on?

HOWARD: I didn’t say I wasn’t doing that.

JOURNALIST: Well what are you doing exactly?

HOWARD: I am handling the matter appropriately, and it’s a police investigation, and consistent with it being an operational matter, I am fully informing myself.

JOURNALIST: Can you just elaborate on….

HOWARD: No I don’t intend to elaborate on something which….

JOURNALIST: Well have you asked them to tell you that they haven’t broken the law?

HOWARD: I have made appropriate enquiries and I don’t have anything to add to what I’ve said.

JOURNALIST: There’s a suggestion in Brisbane today Prime Minister……

HOWARD: I beg your pardon?

JOURNALIST: There was a suggestion in Brisbane today that there was some factional politics here, there was Senator Santoro’s faction involved in naming the three MPs who are from the Catalbiano faction, do you know anything about this?

HOWARD: No I don’t, you know a lot about that, yeh, I don’t know, Paul I know nothing about that.

JOURNALIST: Do you share the concerns of Health Minister Tony Abbott about some of the businesses that have hired Mr Grill and Mr Burke’s services, there’s a long list of businesses, many of them have Liberal links, as well as made donations to the Liberal Party, do you think they have questions to answer?

HOWARD: They’re not running for Prime Minister.

JOURNALIST: …you’ve essentially accused them of poor judgement, as you have Mr Rudd, haven’t you?

HOWARD: I think there is a difference between people who are running for high public office and people who are conducting a business.

JOURNALIST: But business isn’t quarantined from the accusation of poor judgement is it?

HOWARD: No, but it’s not in my normal line of work, given my current responsibilities to reflect in an intense and daily way about the judgement of business.

JOURNALIST: Nevertheless, do you agree with Peter Costello that anyone who’s had anything to do with him is morally compromised?

HOWARD: He made that comment in the context of political contact.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister when did you become aware of the investigation into the MPs in Queensland?

HOWARD: I thought I answered that.

JOURNALIST: Well given the investigation’s been going since….

HOWARD: Well I knew nothing about this matter at all until Friday,* when in accordance with long standing practice, my office was informed that some search warrants would be executed that day, I took the view that it was not my place to make that public because it was a police matter, I have of course as I indicated earlier in answer to Mark’s question, I have kept myself as informed as I should be, in an appropriate way, in relation to the issue. But it does remain an operational matter for the police and it doesn’t help for me to be….or people on my behalf to be injecting comment into the public domain until it’s become public.

JOURNALIST: So did you know, as well as the MPs, that they were going to be raided before they were raided, or just you knew that?

HOWARD: I was told…my office was told on Friday* that these search warrants were going to be executed and I subsequently learnt during the day on whose offices they were executed.

JOURNALIST: Did you do anything between that time, learning of that, and the execution of the warrants?

HOWARD: No, it would have been improper of me to have done so. I mean if I’d have done anything, I’d have been accused of interfering with a police operation. I mean this is my point. It would have been entirely inappropriate for me to have done anything other than to let the law run its course.

JOURNALIST: Have you had a chance to reflect, Prime Minister, on the paradox of you attacking Kevin Rudd’s actions in meeting with Brian Burke at a time when search warrants are being executed on offices of Members of your Government?

HOWARD: I haven’t reflected on that because I don’t see it as a paradox because we don’t know the outcome of those search warrants, and I don’t think we should be jumping to any conclusions.

JOURNALIST: But in saying that sir, aren’t you saying that they’re entitled to a presumption of innocence that Mr Rudd isn’t?

HOWARD: Well the facts in relation to Mr Rudd are clearly available.

JOURNALIST: Mr Howard what’s your reaction to the Newspoll, particularly the steady slide in the primary vote of the Liberal Party that’s being picked up?

HOWARD: Well as I have said before, whenever I get a bad poll it only makes me want to work even harder for the people of Australia.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) from the attacks on Mr Rudd over the last five or six days?

HOWARD: No, I think Peter Costello’s right when he says these matters have a while to have an impact, if they’re to have an impact. But there’s an issue involved in relation to Mr Rudd that is there irrespective of its poll impact and that is the reason why we have raised it. We are getting from the Opposition this extraordinary double standard. Apparently it’s alright for Mr Rudd to call me a liar, apparently it’s alright for Mr Rudd to impugn the honesty of Mr Downer and Mr Vaile on a regular basis. Apparently all that is okay. Apparently its alright for Mr Rudd to say I took Australia to war based on a lie when he, according to his definition told the same lie because he said it was an empirical fact that Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction. I mean he’s really calling himself a liar in those circumstances.

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