This afternoon the Prime Minister announced that Peter Garrett has lost control of the home insulation program to Greg Combet, who will oversee the new program as part of Penny Wong’s enhanced Climate Change and Energy Efficiency portfolio. With Parliament not sitting for a week and media coverage of the affair falling away, Rudd has moved quickly to ensure the wind-up of the current program – likely to continue to cause political difficulties for the Government – and the roll-out of the replacement renewable subsidy program announced by Garrett last week are overseen by a safer and less controversial pair of hands than Garrett’s.
Combet is clearly Rudd’s Mr Fixit: he played a similar clean-up role when brought in to Wong’s portfolio last year to negotiate amendments to the CPRS after Wong had lost control of the debate over the Government’s emissions trading plans. His trade union background and his long experience of negotiating with businesses makes him the ideal minister to oversee the Government’s efforts to placate workers and businesses affected by the closure of the current program.
Garrett retains the remainder of his portfolio, including administration of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act which led to controversy for Garrett when he approved the Four Mile uranium mine in South Australia. Despite (contrary to the claims of the mainstream media) overseeing the insulation program perfectly competently, Garrett lost control of the politics as the Opposition homed in on him, and while he was able to fend off demands for his sacking this week, Rudd must have had grave concerns about his political effectiveness as the face of both the new energy efficiency program and the Government’s efforts to placate business and workers. Garrett has also suffered for having no power base or substantial factional support within the ALP.
The Prime Minister’s announcement also stated that changes to Administrative Arrangements Orders would be made “in due course.” AAOs are the internal structural documents of a Government and will need to reflect the altered allocation of responsibilities between Garrett and Combet. It may also suggest Environment Secretary Robyn Kruk may be shuffled out of her position, given the intense focus on her Department’s handling of the insulation roll-out.
A more effective move would have been to replace Wong with Combet as senior Climate Change Minister, given how poorly Wong has handled the politics of the CPRS, but that would have necessitated a more extensive reshuffle.
When brought in to help Wong, Combet started slowly but, once he was across his brief, stabilised the business of dealing with unions and business over the details of the CPRS. Clearly Rudd will want him to play exactly the same role cleaning up the damage left behind by the forced closure of the insulation program.