Cabinet reshuffle means new Local Government Minister

John McVeigh with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

In the shadow of Christmas. Australia had a reshuffle of its Federal Government ministries. The big news was with the senior positions, such as the replacement of George Brandis as Attorney-General by Western Australian Christian Porter, but the process also saw a new Minister for Local Government.

He is Queenslander John McVeigh, member for Groom, the seat that covers Toowoomba and the Darling Downs. He has been in Parliament only since 2016, but was in the Queensland Parliament for four years before that.

Mr McVeigh is 52 years old, and son of Tom McVeigh, who held the seat from 1972 to 1988 (it was called of Darling Downs until 1984, when it was renamed Groom). His official title is Minister for Regional Development, Territories and Local Government, which is itself part of the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities.

The terminology is confusing, and has been for a long time. Responsibility for local government has a had a chequered history in the Federal Government. From 1950 to 1979 local government was part of the Department of National Development, but since then it has been in 12 different departments as governments, names and responsibilities have changed. It seems that local government has always been something of an afterthought.

From 1987 to 1993 it was part of the Department of Immigration, Local Government and Ethnic Affairs (DILGEA), and from 1998 to 2007 it was contained within the Department Transport and Regional Services. Before its latest incarnation, it was the Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport (2011-13). Before that it had another life as the Department of Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government.

Mr McVeigh’s appointment was criticised in some areas because of his lack of experience in the Federal Parliament, and because of it was seen as fulfilling some sort of Queensland quota in the Ministry.

Some also saw it as a sop to the Nationals, but although Mr McVeigh is a member of that uniquely Queensland creation, the Liberal National Party (LNP), he sits in the Liberal Party room in Canberra. That is a result of an arrangement made when the LNP was formed in 2008 from the merger of the Queensland Nationals and Liberals, when positions in the Canberra party rooms were allocated according to the allegiances of the sitting members at the time.

The criticisms would seem to be unfounded. By any estimation, Mt McVeigh is qualified for the position. His previous stint in the Queensland Parliament and on Toowoomba City Council, and an extensive business career, make him well suited to the position.

He is also well credentialled academically, with a Bachelor of Business from the University of Southern Queensland), an MBA from Bond University, and a PhD in Agribusiness Management from the University of Queensland.

His appointment has been welcomed by the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA). ALGA President David O’Loughlin, who is Mayor of Prospect City Council in Adelaide, said he looks forward to working with Mr McVeigh.

“I will be seeking a meeting with him early in the new year to discuss the Coalition’s policies concerning local government and the current priorities facing our communities,” Mayor O’Loughlin said.

“I will also be extending an invitation to the Minister to meet with the ALGA Board as part of the ALGA board’s strategic planning meeting in mid-February.”

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