What does Prime Minister Turnbull mean for Bayside and Victoria?

PMTurnbull.BayCit.September 2015.

Malcolm Turnbull, his wife Lucy and grandson Jack after being sworn in as Prime Minister of Australia at Government House, Canberra. Image: Malcolm Turnbull Instagram

by Ed Kennedy

Malcolm Turnbull has ascended to the top job in Australia and with it changed the face of the national political landscape. While the implications and aftershocks of Monday’s leadership spill – that deposed former prime minister Tony Abbott for Malcolm Turnbull by a vote of 54 to 44 – shall take time to fully see; the short term implications are already looming large. This is especially true for Bayside and wider Victoria.

So, what does it mean for Bayside that one prime minister from Sydney, NSW has been replaced with another prime minister – also from Sydney, NSW? A great deal as it turns out.

I. Andrew Robb’s future appears more secure

Under Tony Abbott, local MP for Goldstein and Australian Minister for Trade Andrew Robb’s future was uncertain. As well as often being touted in the press as a future American Ambassador – often viewed as code for getting pushed out of Cabinet – Andrew Robb was also reportedly lambasted by Abbott during recent weeks for his performance; unusual for a minister than is generally seen to have done well securing two free trade agreements with Japan and South Korea (and another with China in the pipeline) alongside his other achievements in the portfolio.

Yet, under Turnbull – who by contrast is held to hold Mr Robb is high esteem – the Goldstein MP’s future looks more secure. Further along the Bayside Coast and in the Frankston and Mornington Peninsula area, the future of both Bruce Bilson and Greg Hunt – Minister for Small Business and Minister for the Environment respectively – remains unclear. This is largely owed to the understanding while neither are perhaps Turnbull’s closest allies – indeed Bruce Bilson made a symbolic but strong gesture of walking into the leadership spill with Tony Abbott Monday night – they are also perhaps best viewed as occupants of the ‘middle ground’, and thus unlikely to be in the firing line of any subtle political revenge from the Turnbull camp.

II. Bad news for the rest of Victoria

By contrast, Minister for Defence Kevin Andrews may well be serving his last week in Cabinet.
Having emerged Monday night before the leadership spill to speak out against a return of Malcolm Turnbull to leadership of the Liberal Party, Andrew’s also has a stormy history with Turnbull having sought to challenge him for leader in what was seen as a ‘protest motion’ back in 2009. While Andrews has indicated he would wish to now stay on in the role – and has made the fair point the Minister for Defence role has been filled by far too many occupants in recent years (with over 6 in the last decade) – is it clear the MP for Menzies from the conservative wing of the Liberal Party is unlikely to be a priority for protection under the new Liberal party leader.

Yet, while Andrew’s potential demotion may be seen as understandable by many – and indeed desired by South Australian MP Christopher Pyne who is currently Minister for Education but now understood to be seeking the Andrews’ role – his removal would represent a considerable blow the state of Victoria when it comes to representation within the higher echelons of the government. Alongside potential new Treasurer Scott Morrison, Joe Hockey, Tony Abbott and Bronwyn Bishop – who each remain influential figures notwithstanding recent events – all hail from NSW. In turn, Deputy Liberal leader and Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop, and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann are both West Australian’s – meaning alongside the PM and Treasurer none of the ‘top four’ roles in the Turnbull government are currently occupied by a representative from Australia’s second biggest state. This remains a significant issue both for the state and the Liberal government.

III. Yet the future may bring improved representation via promotion

It remains a significant challenge for the Liberal party to address this perceived gap, especially because both former Labor party prime minister Julia Gillard and current Labor leader Bill Shorten both represented Victorian seats. Yet, MP for Higgins Kelly O’Dwyer and MP for Kooyong Josh Frydenberg – the current Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury and Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister respectively – are both in contention for promotion in this upcoming reshuffle and are seen represent the young future of the party. Their respective promotions are made all the more likely due to the potential demotion of current-Treasurer Joe Hockey alongside Tony Abbott, meaning new MP’s may come to occupy their current roles depending on the preference of a new Treasurer or Prime Minister Turnbull’s desired preference.

In turn, as it relates to the Victorian government, while it was known then Prime Minister Abbott and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews did not enjoy a close working relationship – not the least of which because of the ongoing dispute concerning reallocation of funds for the scrapped East West link Project – with a new leader in Canberra has come the possibility of a new deal being struck within this area that could see greater funding for the Andrews’ government Metro Rail project or a number of other projects supported.

These issues are ongoing and unfolding – with the first point of clarity perhaps due to come with the announcement of the Turnbull government’s reshuffle early next week – yet they also point to some deep dynamics and challenges present across the wider Australian political landscape.

While the suggestions by some abroad that Australia is now a ‘challenge cycle’ or even the “coup capital of the democratic world” is unfounded – it is clear the turbulence seen in Australian politics of recent times may not yet be over. The implications of this for Bayside and beyond could well yet prove immense.

More to come.

Article first appeared in The Bayside Citizen September 2015.

Ed Kennedy is a journalist, ghostwriter, and web developer from Melbourne, Australia. Contact Ed via enquiries@edkennedy.co on LinkedIn or Twitter@EdKennedy01

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