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Howard Shuffles Ministry; Labor Caucus Meets Next Week

John HowardPrime Minister John Howard will announce his second term ministry on Sunday.

Yesterday, the Australian Electoral Commission advised the government that it could now declare that at least 75 seats have been won by the government and Howard accordingly declared the caretaker period of government over.

Coalition members will meet in Canberra this week ahead of Howard’s weekend announcement. The ALP Caucus will meet next week to elect its shadow ministry.

There is at least one vacancy in the ministry, given the retirement of the Defence Minister, Ian McLachlan. Some newspaper reports suggest that Peter Reith may be moved to this portfolio, whilst others predict a promotion for Senator Nick Minchin.

Portfolios to watch include Resources, currently held by Senator Warwick Parer. Parer has been under sustained attack from the Opposition over alleged conflict of interest situations. He was staunchly defended by Howard, but may be moved now that the election is out of the way.

It is generally agreed that ministers such as Judi Moylan and David Kemp have either been under-performing or presiding over embarrassing policies and may therefore be moved. As usual, Bronwyn Bishop’s name is always mentioned as one who is under threat, although there is no evidence that she has made a botch of her Defence Personnel and Science position. Amanda Vanstone might be a better bet as a possible casualty.

Reports last week in The Bulletin suggested that Howard may create a new Ministry of Revenue that would hive off from the Treasury responsibility for taxation and the GST. This was interpreted as an attempt by Howard to isolate Costello and protect Howard from a leadership challenge from his deputy by promoting rivals such as Peter Reith. This proposal is now not seen as likely. As with most things with John Howard, minimal change is now being touted as most likely.

How The Parties Choose Their Ministries

In theory, Howard has complete freedom to choose his new ministry. The Liberal Party allows its leaders this luxury, whereas the ALP members of parliament, otherwise known as the “caucus”, meets to elect a list of ministers or shadow ministers whose portfolios are allocated by the party leader.

In practice, Howard has to consider a number of factors. With McLachlan gone, there will be pressure from South Australia for a replacement from that state. Similarly, if Warwick Smith fails to win Bass, Howard will be under pressure to find another minister from Tasmania. Since the Liberals would then hold no seats in Tasmania, he would have to find a senator.

The gender balance is also a factor of increasing importance to both sides when constructing ministries. Expect Cheryl Kernot to be given a shadow ministry (predicted to be Education, now that Mark Latham has spat the dummy and stood aside) if she wins Dickson.

There is also the practical reality of the Senate to be considered and each side needs at least 5 positions to be filled from the upper house.

In the ALP, factional considerations are paramount. The shadow ministry will reflect the factional breakdown of the caucus with mathematical precision. Howard, too, cannot afford to alienate his moderate wing by locking them out. It is for this reason that Brendan Nelson’s name has been mentioned as a possible replacement for the moderate Warwick Smith.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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