Tony Abbott has reshuffled his cabinet in response to Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinos’s announcement of his decision to step down, together with the government’s general state of disarray. The principal changes are that Defence Minister David Johnston has been dumped from cabinet to the back bench, and Sussan Ley fills his cabinet vacancy as Health Minister, having previously been Assistant Education Minister. This initiates a game of musical chairs in which Defence goes to Kevin Andrews; Andrews’ portfolio of Social Services goes to Scott Morrison; and Morrison’s portfolio of Immigration and Border Protection goes to Peter Dutton, the former Health Minister.

The promotion of Ley and the departure of Sinodinos leaves two vacancies in the outer ministry, which are filled by the promotion from parliamentary secretary of Josh Frydenberg, who takes Sinodinos’s role, and Simon Birmingham, who takes Ley’s. The second casualty of the reshuffle together with Johnston is Queensland Senator Brett Mason, who has lost his position as parliamentary secretary. The three parliamentary secretary vacancies are filled by Christian Porter, slightly compensating the Western Australian contingent for the dumping of Johnston; and Kelly O’Dwyer and Karen Andrews, who together with Ley’s promotion to cabinet alleviate the front-bench’s glaring deficiency of women.

All of which gives me a helpful opportunity to launch a new thread as the Christmas/New Year poll drought takes hold. There is also the following to relate:

• The one new poll to keep us amused is an Essential Research survey conducted for The Australian, which found Chris Bowen with a narrow 29% to 27% lead over Joe Hockey on the question of “who would you trust to handle the economy”, compared with a lead for Hockey of 34% to 23% in August. More contentiously, respondents were asked to nominate “Australia’s best treasurer of the past 40 years”, but with only five options included – it apparently being taken for granted that no one would nominate Jim Cairns, Bill Hayden, Phillip Lynch, John Kerin, Ralph Willis, John Dawkins or Chris Bowen, even to the extent that no “others” option was included. The responses ran, in order, Peter Costello (30%), Paul Keating (18%), John Howard (12%), Wayne Swan (8%), Joe Hockey (4%). The Australian’s report by Troy Bramston rather audaciously sold this Hockey being “regarded as the worst treasurer of the past 40 years”. Even when better structured than this, I doubt the utility of such polls, which often reflect the degree of competition for the esteem of partisans of one side over the other. It would be more instructive if respondents were rate each contestant in turn favourably or unfavourably. More on this from Kevin Bonham

• Labor is set to have two changes to its Senate line-up early in the new year, the first being the result of John Faulkner’s retirement next month. His vacancy will be filled by Jenny McAllister, the party’s national president and a colleague of Faulkner in the Left, who joined him in advocating for reform to the party’s preselection processes earlier in the year. McAllister was preselected to replace Faulkner in July after he announced he would not contest the next election.

• Labor’s Senate position in the Australian Capital Territory is set to pass from Kate Lundy to Katy Gallagher, following the former’s surprise announcement last month of her intention to retire, and the latter’s resignation from her position as the ACT’s Chief Minister. Lundy will depart on March 31, creating a casual vacancy to be filled by Gallagher the following day. Gallagher was encouraged to take the position by Senator Penny Wong, who shares her alignment with the Left, and Bill Shorten. She has been succeeded as Chief Minister by her former deputy, Andrew Barr, a move which had Gallagher’s endorsement despite Barr’s alignment with the Right.

• Katy Gallagher’s vacancy in the ACT region of Molonglo will be determined by a countback, with reference to Gallagher’s preference votes from the last election. According to Kirsten Lawson of the Canberra Times, “Labor number-crunchers” expect the seat to go to Meegan Fitzharris, chief-of-staff to Andrew Barr, who was the third-strongest performing candidate on Labor’s ticket at the 2012 election with 2.9% of the vote, behind Gallagher (26.2%) and Barr (4.2%). Preferences nonetheless resulted in the third Labor seat going to incumbent Simon Corbell (2.1%).

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