The APS gets its own minister in a reshuffle of promotions

By Melissa Coade

Friday October 1, 2021

Ben Morton
Minister assisting the prime minister and cabinet Ben Morton said the report showed Australia had a ‘world-leading’ approach to regulation. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

Ben Morton has been elevated from an assistant minister with responsibility for the public service, to a fully fledged minister in the portfolio.

His was just one of a number of changes in a ministerial reshuffle announced by Scott Morrison on Friday.   

Defence industry minister Melissa Price’s promotion, with science and technology added to her federal portfolio, was another big move instigated by the prime minister. 

“This [promotion] will complement [Price’s] defence industry responsibilities very significantly,” Morrison said, noting the benefits her bigger portfolio would deliver for operational defence purposes but civil uses as well.

“There is also the working together with organisations like ANSTO and the CSIRO in addressing nuclear capabilities that will be necessary under the nuclear submarine program,” Morrison said. 

It has been a turn-around for Price who was dumped as environment minister in 2019 but the political turmoil of a colleague has seen her reinstated to the cabinet earlier this year, and now rewarded with a bigger portfolio.

“I recently promoted Melissa again to the cabinet and she’s been hitting her marks and doing a terrific job — it’s great to have her in these new roles,” Morrison said. 

Price’s additional responsibilities come amid Christian Porter’s fresh resignation as industry, science and technology minister last month. Porter chose to relinquish his ministerial responsibilities in light of a mystery contribution to help cover the costs of his personal legal claim against the ABC.

Porter told the prime minister in handing in his resignation that he was unable to provide information about who contributed to a blind trust that was established to help cover a portion of his legal fees for the action, and refused to disclose how much of bill the trust had paid for.

Price was reinstated to the cabinet after another cabinet reshuffle in March this year, when Porter (then the Commonwealth Attorney-General) decided he would pursue his defamation claim against the ABC.

Speaking from Canberra on Friday, the prime minister said he had been considering the cabinet promotions prior to his recent overseas visit to the US, where the new AUKUS partnership dominated his discussions with international counterparts as well as the Quad alliance between Australia, Japan, India and the US.  

“These changes provide a timely opportunity to reinforce some of the key issues the government is progressing, especially following on from the successful series of meetings that we recently held in Washington,” Morrison said. 

“It is timely […] to be working together with the United States and the United Kingdom, linking up our industry, our science and technology supply chains, our scientists, our entrepreneurs, our technologists, and others working together to create opportunities in areas like quantum and artificial intelligence,” he said. 

Also as a result of Porter’s resignation, Angus Taylor has added industry to his energy minister’s portfolio. Morrison said he wanted to reward Taylor’s ‘good job’ getting electricity prices down.

“[Taylor’s] job here is to ensure the sovereignty of Australia to ensure our homegrown capabilities in critical supplies is there for the future,” the pm said, noting important initiatives that the minister would have oversight for including a clean energy summit in 2022 and for future clean energy technology supply chains.

“As minister for industry, energy and emissions reduction, [Taylor] will be pursuing those [programs] with great gusto, professionalism and skill.”

Victorian MP Tim Wilson was promoted to assistant minister overseeing the federal industry, energy and emissions reduction portfolios.

“[Wilson] will bring a great deal of advocacy and skills to that portfolio as we continue to articulate and bring people together around our plans for emissions reduction on Australia’s energy future, the transmission to the new energy economy,” Morrison said. 

The prime minister also announced that Alex Hawke, minister for immigration, citizenship, migrant services and multicultural affairs, would become a new government cabinet minister. This was in part recognition of Hawke’s performance during Australia’s involvement in emergency evacuations from Kabul when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, the pm said. 

“Minister Hawke did an absolutely extraordinary job,”  Morrison said. 

“[The evacuation from Kabul] was an incredibly complex exercise and it was done with an enormous amount of effort, and great skill and professionalism.”

The APS gets its own minister

Former bus driver and Howard government adviser Morton is now elevated to the ministry, where he will be taking on the responsibilities of special minister of state, minister for public service and minister assisting the prime minister and cabinet. 

He was previously the assistant minister to the prime minister and cabinet, assistant minister to the minister for the public service, and assistant minister for electoral matters.

The PM said Morton’s expanded role would see him charged with driving ‘the cost of regulation and compliance down’. He said the cost cutting measures would be delivered not just across the commonwealth but also the federation. 

“Morton will be assisting me particularly with federation responsibilities, the National Federation Reform Council and supporting my role in the national cabinet,” Morrison said. 

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