Stuart Robert has replaced Marise Payne as the Minister for Human Services after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s cabinet reshuffle.
Mr Robert, who was the Assistant Minister for Defence under Tony Abbott, also becomes the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC.
Mr Robert served 12 years in the military, mostly in intelligence and security, before establishing successful IT businesses. His voting record shows he has voted ‘very strongly’ for decreasing the availability of welfare payments and ‘very strongly’ for introducing tighter means testing of family payments.
He has also voted ‘very strongly’ against allowing government financial and work-related benefits to same-sex couples and their children and ‘very strongly’ against increasing public access to government data.
His complete voting record can be found here. Interestingly, his record exactly matches the voting record of Mackellar MP Bronwyn Bishop, with 100 per cent congruence.
Mr Roberts said in his maiden speech to Parliament in 2008: “I support an appropriate safety net to assist the disadvantaged and the hurting without creating an ongoing welfare society.”
The new minister will need all the grit and determination he can muster as he takes over the complex and highly demanding Human Services portfolio, which includes Medicare, Centrelink and Child Support and is the largest Commonwealth department, with 34,000 staff.
DHS has been bedevilled by a rash of complaints about its customer service, including crashing websites, dysfunctional mobile apps and lengthy waiting times, both on the phone and at Centrelink offices.
He will also have to deal with flagging morale within his own department. Earlier this month, the majority of DHS staff voted down a draft enterprise agreement which proposed a pay rise of 4.5 per cent over three years, which the Community and Public Sector Union said represented major cuts to conditions and entitlements.
He replaces Marise Payne, who was promoted to become Australia’s first female Defence Minister and who held the Human Services portfolio for two years.
During her tenure at DHS, Ms Payne presided over the $1 billion push to overhaul the Department’s clunky welfare payment IT system and made strides in tackling domestic violence, by expanding measures including the Family and Domestic Violence Risk Identification and Referral model and adapting it to be used face-to-face and online.
But the new Defence Minister has already attracted criticism on Facebook from some who claim she is not up to the job and is lacking experience.
One said: “I’m thinking General Peter Cosgrove would have made a great Minister for Defence, as I imagine having knowledge about your portfolio helps somewhat.
“Why is it that ministers are interchangeable for any portfolio? It’s akin to having my GP turn up at my local restaurant and decide he’s now going to be head chef.”
Another said: “Could someone please explain how a previous career in Human Services qualifies one (man or woman) to run this country’s Defence portfolio? Seems Malcom Turnbull (like most new bosses in most new companies) feels he has to go through the place and sack what was there – no matter how skilled – and replace them with his own.”
But there were also plenty of people congratulating Ms Payne on her new appointment, including lobby group the Australia Defence Association, which called her “an inspired choice” and noted that Ms Payne had spent years on parliamentary committees on defence and foreign affairs.
Ms Payne will face challenges including choosing the next fleet of submarines, the draft Defence white paper and military intervention in the Middle East.