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Labor clears the decks: Evans and Roxon depart

Minister for Tertiary Education and Senate Leader Chris Evans and Attorney-General Roxon have announced their departures from Cabinet at a media conference in Canberra this morning, with Evans indicating he will be resigning from the Senate in coming months and the Attorney-General stating she will retire from politics at the next election. The Prime Minister immediately announced a detailed reshuffle to replace them, further confirming that this was a long-planned move.

Evans, nearly twenty years in the Senate, is understood to have resigned for personal reasons, the latest victim of the intensely-demanding Perth-Canberra commute that has worn down previous WA senators on both sides of the chamber. Evans, while personally well-regarded, struggled as minister first in Immigration, where he oversaw the dismantling the Pacific Solution and the removal of Temporary Protection Visas only to see asylum seeker boat arrivals start to rise during Kevin Rudd’s Prime Ministership, and then in Workplace Relations, where he struggled to fight off an aggressive, confected campaign by employers to return to elements of WorkChoices. Eventually he was moved into the lower-profile but important portfolio of Tertiary Education.

The departure of Roxon is more surprising; she has been in Parliament since 1998 and, after a successful stint as Health Minister, became Attorney-General at the end of 2011. She has been dogged by civil rights issue, with widespread criticism of a slate of national security reforms put forward by her department, and an attempt to collate anti-discrimination laws into a single act that drew fire from a wide spectrum of critics concerned about freedom of speech.

Deputy Senate Leader and factional powerbroker Stephen Conroy is expected to succeed Evans despite a push for Penny Wong. The one clear benefit from Evans’ departure, assuming Conroy succeeds him, is that the pugnacious Broadband Minister will be far more aggressive in the Senate than Evans. A persistent feature of Labor’s period in office has been an absence of the kind of remorseless political aggression demonstrated by Tony Abbott once he became Opposition Leader. Stephen Conroy would bring that to his leadership of the Senate.

The departures (Evans’s leaked last night), inevitably, have been portrayed in the media as evidence of “disarray” in what is supposed to be the Prime Minister’s epically long election campaign. It should more accurately be seen as a clearing of the ministerial decks at the start of an election year.

Ministerial changes

Chris Bowen is the big winner from the reshuffle, being shifted from the immensely difficult Immigration portfolio to Evans’s Tertiary Education portfolio, with strong Gillard supporter Brendan O’Connor replacing him at Immigration. Labor QC Mark Dreyfus will replace Roxon in the Attorney-General, an elevation that takes him straight into Cabinet. There are a number of other promotions as well, one consequent to the return to the backbench of Justine Elliot, whom the Prime Minister had said had grown uncomfortable as Parliamentary Secretary for Trade while she was leading a campaign against coal seam gas.

Bowen will be delighted to escape Immigration, where he has had to deal with a massive increase in boat arrivals and the reinstatement of the Pacific Solution, but where he also achieved the historic reform of a massive increase in Australia’s humanitarian intake, to 20,000.

The PM’s media release outlining the full array of changes follows:

CHANGES TO THE MINISTRY

Today I pay tribute to Senator Chris Evans and Attorney General Nicola Roxon who will step down from the Cabinet immediately.

I thank them both for their tireless efforts in Government since 2007 and in Opposition. They have worked in critical portfolios and leave a proud legacy of Labor reforms which have helped create a stronger, fairer modern Australia.

Their departure leaves big shoes to fill. But it paves the way for fresh talent, new ideas and new energy during the days of governing in 2013. It means a rejuvenated team who will keep building a smarter, fairer modern Australia.

Senator Evans has led Labor in the Senate since 2004 and acted as Prime Minister on several occasions. He has served as Minister in the demanding portfolios of Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research, Immigration and Citizenship and Workplace Relations.

He implemented substantial changes that transformed the nation’s tertiary education system. An additional 190,000 students are now studying at university – many of them the first in their families to do so.

Elected to the Senate in 1993, Senator Evans established the National Workforce Development Fund, the first employer-led training partnership that ensures we are training Australians for jobs not just for the sake of training.

As Immigration Minister, Senator Evans shaped the temporary and permanent skilled migration system to serve our economy and restored integrity to the 457 visa program. He abolished Temporary Protection Visas and detention debt and introduced Labor’s detention values for the treatment of asylum seekers.

Ms Roxon was elected as the Member for Gellibrand in 1998.

As Australia’s first female Attorney General, she will be remembered for her passion for law reform. I will always be grateful for her help in establishing the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

She has fearlessly taken on big tobacco and driven Australia’s world-leading plain packaging laws, winning international recognition.

As Minister for Emergency Management, she has been at the helm of the nation’s response to natural disasters on many occasions.

As Health Minister, Ms Roxon oversaw major reforms to Australia’s public hospital, primary care and preventative health systems.

I know they will continue to work hard for their constituents in Western Australia and in the electorate of Gellibrand and wish them and their families the best for the future.

Chris Bowen will replace Senator Evans as Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research. He will also have responsibility for Small Business.

Mark Dreyfus will replace Ms Roxon as Attorney General and Minister for Emergency Management, relinquishing the role of Cabinet Secretary to Jason Clare, who retains Home Affairs and Justice.

Brendan O’Connor will become Minister for Immigration and Citizenship whilst Mark Butler takes on Housing and Homelessness.

 Mike Kelly enters the Ministry as Minister for Defence Materiel.

I also welcome new Parliamentary Secretaries Yvette D’Ath (Climate Change and Energy Efficiency), Kelvin Thompson (Trade) and Melissa Parke (Mental Health, Homelessness and Social Housing) and thank Justine Elliot for her contribution in the Trade portfolio. 

I will recommend to Her Excellency the Governor-General that new members of the Ministry be sworn in on Monday 4 February 2013.

A ballot for the Senate leadership position will be held at Monday’s caucus meeting.

38

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  • 1
    Suzanne Blake
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    @ Jimmy

    How are your Labor colleagues going now? Its imploding Jimmy. Decades in Opposition coming up

  • 2
    Michael Hilliard
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    One of the most touching resignations I’ve heard. Just goes to show that there are real people on labor’s front bench rather than just robotic idiots.

  • 3
    Patriot
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Rats deserting a sinking ship.

  • 4
    Moloch
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    Good riddance to Nosy Nicola. It’s just a pity that her fellow Internet voyeur and phoney moralist, Senator Conroy, isn’t accompanying her.

    How is it that a supposedly progressive party elevated these theocratic hacks in the first place?

  • 5
    Patriot
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Wonder if Penny Wong will pull her finger out and go for the Senate leadership.

  • 6
    Michael Hilliard
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    Looks like Abbott’s keeping all his rats onboard.

  • 7
    GeeWizz
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    Labor = Sinking Ship

    Gillard = Captain (eg “Captains Pick”)

    Craig Thomson = Iceberg

    Roxon and Evans = Rats

    This is Labor folks… this is Labor.

  • 8
    Mike Flanagan
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Bernard for the more sober account of this program of clearing the decks. I might say a more cognitive and informative observation than that displayed by the Fairfax Press.
    I am unable, thankfully, to to comment on the Murdoch’s press’s attitudes as they speak a differnet language than I had been taught and I have never been able to acquire a translation dictionary.
    If the leader of the opposition had a brain in his empty cranium he could take a lesson from our Prime Minister and renew himself with some substance, and ditch most of his front bench.

  • 9
    David Stephens
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    Balanced account Bernard; obviously resisting the buzz at the presser. Someone used the word “chaos” in an early question and someone else took up the refrain. How many of our journos have minds of their own? Baaa! Lucky we have a continual churn in media content; by Tuesday the fashion will have changed again and the sheep will be baaing a different line. Recommend all of us try to read something other than the MSM over the next 7 months, starting with Crikey.

  • 10
    Patriot
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    GeeWizz,

    Cabinet reshuffle = Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

  • 11
    David Stephens
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    Well done, Patriot: two highly original one liners in two hours – plus a predictable nom de plume.

  • 12
    shepherdmarilyn
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    Michael, don’t you think it rather gross that Roxon wants to spend more time with her own 8 year old while she just passed laws to punish single parents so they can’t spend more time with their own 8 year olds.

  • 13
    GeeWizz
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    Band going down with the ship = Labor Caucus

    Rescue boat = Kevin Rudd?

  • 14
    Patriot
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    David, don’t you think Penny should lead the Senate? Who could be more qualified to hold their finger in the dykе – a small, Asian, female finger, no less – and forestall a torrent of Liberal legislation after the election?

  • 15
    frey
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    Hey @suzanne and @patriot, does that mean the 8 – count ‘em EIGHT – coalition members stepping down mean a greater crisis and lack of faith in Abbott?

    The LNP sinking faster?

    The only difference with Washer and Moylan leaving is that the rats are staying on board the LNP ship.

  • 16
    mattsui
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    Clearly Crikey mod’s do not operate on the weekend.
    Patriot, GW, if you have nothing sensible to offer, may I respectfully suggest you both get a life.

    Roxon has her name and fingerprints all over two pretty messy proposals; AGD’s new spy wishlist and that little anti descrimination thing that has commentators so worked up just now. It will be interesting to see how Mark Dreyfus (aparently well qualified for such a fight) will handle them….. Could he be a rising star for labor or an easy target for the true left?
    matt

  • 17
    shepherdmarilyn
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    Penny Wong is not a small woman, she is quite tall and very well built.

  • 18
    GeeWizz
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    But she has had her fingers in a lot of dykes Marilyn

  • 19
    Mike Flanagan
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    Mattsui;
    Yes, mother superior does,
    The nominees for your frustration are what the neo cons offer as balanced debate.
    Sad isn’t!

  • 20
    Marrickville Mauler
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

    fortunately Bernard’s unbelievably amateurish following of the undergrad from the IPA on the discrim law stuff seems to have have nothing to do with this

  • 21
    fractious
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    @ Mike Flanagan, mattsui

    I wouldn’t worry too much about lack of moderation, in fact I welcome it. It’s instructive to see what the likes of GeeWizz (#17) and Patriot (#14) do with all that rope – i.e. they hang themselves. In full public view.

  • 22
    GeeWizz
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    fractions it’s called political humour, you should look it up.

    The Good Ship Gillard is going down all you Labor supporters can do now is laugh.

    Australians won’t risk another hung parliament so they will vote the Libs.

  • 23
    Apollo
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    What’s the big deal anyway? I’m so not excited about this election, I have no party to vote for.

    I’ll just draw a picture of First Dog on the ballot paper. Maybe someone could start a First Dog party or Beer party to give Australians some choice.

  • 24
    Holden Back
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    Remember how Reith left the Howard government in 2001, and they lost the election? Honestly, attention span of house flies.

  • 25
    floorer
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    if you were to dribble into the puddle that is the msm the puddle would double in size, if you were to p*ss in the puddle the msm would drown, a bit wah wah I know but 2 people retiring after nearly 20 years in the job and the world ends? Roxon was a bit control freakery for me anyway.

  • 26
    floorer
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

    I can’t remember where I read this but it was suggested that a night out in the Roxon household was putting salt on the chips.

  • 27
    dendy
    Posted February 3, 2013 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    Thank you Bernard for an intelligent comment on this. So far the only one I’ve seen.

    Even MSM organs which should know better have been writing drivel on this, and as for the spittle flecked keyboards of Murdoch’s Dancing Bears…

  • 28
    Liamj
    Posted February 3, 2013 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    Could the resident rightwing trolls please collaborate so they’re not all repeating the exact same cliches – this isn’t The Australian.

  • 29
    Posted February 3, 2013 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    The level of vicious homophobia coming from the conservative commenters here is breathtaking.

  • 30
    JMNO
    Posted February 3, 2013 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    Emma Alberici advertised Lateline on Friday evening post Evan’s announcement of his retirement in terms of the ‘embattled Prime Minister’. I’d thought it seemed like a good time for a government minister to announce his/her retirement from politics to enable a smooth handover to a replacement. However the MSM seem determined to see every move as a blow to the the PM’s position. It’s going to be a long year in politics unfortunately. At least with the election date known, the MSM can’t waste acres of space trying to interpret every government action as foreshadowing the announcement of the election date

  • 31
    Ronson Dalby
    Posted February 3, 2013 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    “The level of vicious homophobia coming from the conservative commenters here is breathtaking.”

    A taste of life for the next few years after the September election.

    Sad and terrifying at the same time.

  • 32
    Mike Flanagan
    Posted February 3, 2013 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    fractious;
    No it isn’t of concern to me. It livens the debate and discourse as long as some civility is maintained.
    I am not sure about the new avators though, I did enjoy being displayed as a feral species from the bush. It sort of suited my thunders from the bush.
    The neocons habit of repeating their mantras of hate have to be repeated regularly in order to confirm in their own minds what they need to believe.
    It could be called irrational sublimation and reinforcement.

  • 33
    Johnfromplanetearth
    Posted February 3, 2013 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Nothing has been more sad and terrifying than the last 5 years and 71 days! We have had to endure the most corrupt and incompetent Government in our history.

  • 34
    mattsui
    Posted February 3, 2013 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Planet Earth, you say, John?
    Which solar system is that in then? Or perhaps you live in an alternative reality, where everything the opposition says is in fact true and the old fashioned press is non partisan and factual.
    Come September, we’ll see how many other “John”s have swallowed the cool-ade “fromplanetearth”.

  • 35
    Ronson Dalby
    Posted February 3, 2013 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    “We have had to endure the most corrupt and incompetent Government in our history.”

    Sometimes one across things that prove there should be an intelligence test before people are alllowed to vote.

  • 36
    taylormade
    Posted February 3, 2013 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    Bowen to Treasuer would have been a good move, at least he comes across well, has a background in finance and has handled immigration as best as anyone could. Swan could go to arts or regional australia, just somewhere where he is not required to sell the govts message day after day.

    Suppose the libs submit thier policys for costing and found to be incorrect. Does anyone really think people,(apart from the rusted ons) will believe anything wayne swan says. Is damaged goods as far as the electorate is concerned. 7.30 report appearance last week was woeful.

    People can go on all they like about low IR, low unemployment, low inflation, but if it is Swan doing the spruiking, then the Govt will not get the thanks it probably deserves.

    Thus the reshuffle wasted a golden opportunity i reckon.

  • 37
    MJPC
    Posted February 4, 2013 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    It would appear that the LNP and tea party lite followers on this blog have the election stitched up without their much vaunted leader anouncing one policy of substance (apart from abolution of taxes, one of which by all acocunts will be very difficult to do easily- Carbon Tax).
    Unlike the dictatorshipo currently ruling Queensland, the Federal Parliament has a Senate.
    Patriot and fellow travellers, let’s see the new Inductrial policy, environmental policy, payment for all Abbotts grandious schemes for yet more middle class welfare. I am looking forward to seeing John Howard on the huskings, only the second PM that has lost his seat in an election!
    As for Poll results, if you are a believer of those then the visit by the Easter Bunny is not that far away for you.

  • 38
    Person Ordinary
    Posted February 4, 2013 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    The real battle lines are between the forces behind the Attorney General’s Department, who push for a big brother style crackdown on internet freedom, and we the people. The forces that have driven a strong politician like Roxon to despair …

    To reduce it all down to cheering from the sidelines for Party A versus Party B is naive and destructive.

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