ANALYSIS

Anthony Albanese passes the test on new ministry, but veterans' affairs should be in cabinet

Anthony Albanese's new ministry delivers on one of Labor's election campaign promises, at least in one respect.

There is depth in talent and experience on the new front benches, and if the Prime Minister runs a cabinet-driven government, there are plenty of ministers there he can lean on through the economic and national security headwinds ahead.

It was a major selling point for Labor as it tried to overcome voter doubt about Mr Albanese himself. Even if the leader's campaign gaffes raised doubts about him, he was surrounded by a good team that had his respect and attention. The stability of the shadow ministry in Labor's last three years in opposition helped with that sell.

The election result gave Mr Albanese problems to solve in creating his government's first ministry. Without senior Labor figures in outgoing senator Kristina Keneally and former Griffith MP Terri Butler, and with both factional and regional stakes to account for, setting the ministry was an early test of balance for the new prime minister. Mr Albanese seems to have passed it, while raising some questions.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announces his new ministry on Tuesday. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announces his new ministry on Tuesday. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

First is the decision to move senior Labor MP and long-serving education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek from that portfolio to environment and water. It's been interpreted in some parts of the media as a demotion, although Labor vehemently denies it. Jason Clare was due for a key portfolio following his strong performance in the campaign. Ms Plibersek is one of the new government's most experienced leaders. That Mr Albanese has appointed her to lead one of its major policy priorities shouldn't be controversial, even if it wasn't expected.

Many of the incoming ministers will be well-versed in their portfolios - Mark Dreyfus becomes Attorney-General after holding the role in the Rudd government, Tony Burke (workplace relations) and Penny Wong (foreign affairs) have spent years in opposition getting across the briefs, and Mark Butler (health) and Chris Bowen (climate change) have established themselves in their portfolios after a switch in 2021. Tasmanian MP Julie Collins makes a big shift from agriculture to housing, one of Labor's major priorities this term, but she has experience in that policy area.

Other new ministers with major responsibilities in the new government, including Clare O'Neil in home affairs, will be expected to hit the ground running, and will turn to their new departments for support.

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One disappointing feature in the ministry is that veterans' affairs sits outside cabinet. Incoming defence minister Richard Marles' explanation on ABC radio this morning wasn't exactly persuasive.

"Veterans' affairs largely has been a ministry which has been in the outer ministry, but of course it sits within a broader defence space. So there is definitely through me a voice that exists in that space in relation to the cabinet," he said.

Whatever Labor says, Mr Marles will be busy on other pressing defence matters, and there's no substitute for having a dedicated minister sitting in the cabinet and advocating for veterans. The new government may discover this over the next term.

Veterans' affairs will have yet another new minister, continuing years of churn, while the new government brings more turnover for the science portfolio. One of the major contributions Labor can make in those areas is to maintain stability in its line-up of ministers.

This story Albanese passes the test on new ministry, but it has an important flaw first appeared on The Canberra Times.