Tony Abbott plays reshuffle card in hope of a happier 2015 – discarding David Johnston

Dumped from cabinet: David Johnston. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Dumped from cabinet: David Johnston. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
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Dumped from cabinet: David Johnston. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Dumped from cabinet: David Johnston. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Who’s who in the Abbott ministry

This is the reshufffle Tony Abbott had to have. Its central aim is to bolster the economic foundations of the government with the inclusion of some extra backbone in the form of Scott Morrison, and some extra charm in the form of cabinet appointee Sussan Ley, and newcomer to the outer-ministry, Josh Frydenberg.

These are the important changes: Morrison, among the the most formidable and apparently most fearless advocates in the current cabinet, who comes in as Social Services Minister; Ley, who has had a big promotion and will steer through a revamped GPpayment among other things; and Frydenberg, an urbane and gifted communicator, who will no doubt buttress the otherwise wooden economic messaging of Joe Hockey and Mathias Cormann.

However reluctantly, Abbott has bitten the bullet admitting what has been balefully obvious for months, that doing nothing was a recipe for continued drift towards the electoral abyss.

Abbott’s party-room declaration a few weeks back that 2014 had been a year of delivery and achievement was the final straw for some members of his government.

Aimed at reframing a series of humiliating defeats at the hands of a rambunctious Senate, the claim had the opposite effect, galvanising hitherto unexpressed concerns around the PM’s judgment.

It was a clumsy application of spin over substance, but worse than that, it rendered real for the first time the problem of a government unwilling or unable to break free of its own talking points, even as those same arguments fell flat with voters.

Abbott at least was attuned enough to offer some hope as well, promising to clear the governmental hull of a few drag-causing barnacles before year’s end.

His office scoffed at the suggestion of any personnel changes and swore David Johnston enjoyed the Prime Minister’s absolute confidence and would most certainly be there for a long time to come.

So much for that. Johnston has been dumped – the biggest loser. His crime was political buffoonery rather than administrative failure. Worse ministers have survived under the radar.

The inclusion of Ley in cabinet as Health Minister doubles the female representation – another admission of the political mistakes of the original line-up.

Abbott’s stubbornness in resisting a shake-up had been premised on two judgments: a recognition that reshuffles create new enemies, and, a pathological aversion to handing a win to his liberal critics in the commentariat.

This reshuffle has done both. But it has also improved the team, and offers him the hope of a better 2015 than the year it succeeds.

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