A minor shakeup of the federal ministry has some commentators expecting an election this year, while others believe it’s simply the government’s chance to sharpen its agenda.
It means parts of the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources will be accountable to Price, also defence industry minister, and parts already overseen by Taylor as energy and emissions reduction minister will expand.
The reshuffle also included the appointment of Ben Morton to minister for the public service, Alex Hawke to cabinet, and Tim Wilson to assistant minister for industry, energy and emissions reduction.
For University of Sydney politics senior lecturer Dr Stewart Jackson the small changes are signs of a looming election he suspects will occur this year.
“This minor reshuffle signals ‘steady as she goes, let’s go into the election’,” Jackson says. “The [big] reshuffle will occur after the election if Morrison is returned.”
But for Deakin University politics lecturer Dr Geoff Robinson the move was simply about replacing Christian Porter and further focusing portfolios with the government’s agenda.
“Attaching energy and emissions reduction with industry reflects very much how the Coalition tends to think about emissions reduction policy, that it is pretty much subordinate to industry policy,” Robinson says.
“There is obviously the various defence industry scientific agencies, and certainly that indicates the focus.”
The prime minister flagged that Price’s expanded portfolio would include working with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation and the CSIRO in addressing nuclear capabilities for the AUKUS submarine program.
Jackson, a public sector employee in the 1990s, said any shakeup could be a trying time for public servants as they gauged a new minister’s agenda.
“The biggest challenge is getting the minister up to speed, and before you manage to do that in finding out what their agenda is in taking over the portfolio,” he said.
But based on his belief an election could happen in December he suggested there wasn’t going to be much time for the new roles to “make an impact”.
Jackson said he thought an election would occur as the government delivered Australia’s plan to reopen as COVID-19 vaccination rates climbed.
“The experience overseas shows everyone is really happy for a period of time, and the case numbers start to go up,” he said. “When they come out of covid … then I think people are on an up, and they look favourably upon the government.”
Robinson was unconvinced an election would occur this year, pointing to disruptions in the NSW state government causing headwinds and time needed before improvements kicked in from lockdowns easing.
He said ministers had become more interventionist in the public sector and he believed this was a trend likely to continue with the new appointments.
“They’re more prone to intervene in decisions, but perhaps they have often struggled to often drive policy changes and direction,” Robinson said.
“I think it’s probably due to the decline of overarching vision for governments in the Australian context.”