By Julian Bajkowski
Furniture removalists and stationers in Canberra are set for a busy Christmas after Prime Minister Tony Abbott revealed his much anticipated carve-up of ministerial and departmental functions.
The big themes in the changesare simplification and clarity, and there is plenty on the move.
The bureaucratic shake-up will hit dozens of departments agencies and so far the biggest changes will be felt at the Departments of Education and Workplace Relations Immigration and Citizenship, Family and Community Services, Housing and Indigenous Affairs, Attorney General’s, Health and Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.
The Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport will also be abolished.
So far the fundamental changes to the Administrative Arrangements Orders, outlined by Mr Abbott, look like this:
The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and associated policy shifts from the umbrella of the Attorney-General’s portfolio to the new Department of Immigration and Border Protection, in a move intended to “ensure stronger integration of border protection resources”.
With Scott Morrison as Minister for Immigration and Border Protection the former Department of Immigration and Citizenship loses “settlement services for migrants and humanitarian entrants” which now move to the freshly named Department of Social Services, which largely absorbs welfare policy functions from FaCSHIA.
“This is a sensible reform that will deliver synergies with broader community services delivery,” Mr Abbott said of the change.
Also moving to the Department of Social Services is responsibility for ageing and aged care which were previously housed in the Department of Health and Ageing. Mr Abbott said “all programs for people with a disability” will also move to Social Services.
“The Department will also take on responsibility for all income support arrangements for working age people, in addition to its current responsibilities for Commonwealth pension payments,” Mr Abbott said.
The Social Inclusion Board is being axed and the Minister for Social Services (Kevin Andrews) will “consider the arrangements for ministerial advisory councils that meet the needs of his portfolio” Mr Abbott said.
The so-called super department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations is being cut in two to give what Mr Abbott calls a more “focused approach to two of the most important policy priorities of the government.”
Industrial relations and labour market functions are dispatched to the Department of Employment for the full attention of minister Eric Abetz, while the Department of Education picks up Higher Education.
Mr Abbott said that Treasury forecasts of a rise in unemployment to 800,000 by mid-2014 required that “labour market programmes and workplace relations policy are working in concert to support job creation and increase workforce participation.”
He said the Department of Education would concentrate on “building a world class education system that puts students first,” which does not appear to be revolutionary, at least for the time being.
The Abbott government’s view of federal interplay with Local Government is also becoming clearer. With the Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport axed, regional development, including local government and territories, will find its offices at the Department of Infrastructure.
That move could potentially provide a shorter path to federal funding for council-based projects like roads, future and existing, which Mr Abbott has declared a priority over non-bitumen projects like an east coast high speed rail line which appear to have been parked.
While the Department of Health may have been relieved of the burden of Ageing, its minister Peter Dutton also picks up responsibility for the National Mental Health Commission to provide what Mr Abbott said was “a greater engagement with the mental health policies and programmes managed by that portfolio.”
However in one of two curiously fortuitous moves, the Health portfolio also picks up management of Sports policies and programmes “to increase the focus on the importance of participation and exercise to improving health.”
That move is certain to provide ministers with a supply of finals tickets, but it could also foreseeably increase anxiety levels among promoters of boxing and other high impact contact sports where clinicians have often questioned long-term health outcomes.
Creative types and content originators concerned about intellectual property and censorship laws are in for a real treat. Ministerial oversight for the Arts has been sent to Attorney General George Brandis who, like arts ministers before him, should be spoiled for choice in terms of well cultured evening invitations.
There will be less joy at the former Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change Science, Research and Tertiary Education.
Most of its environmental functions have been rolled into Department to the Environment which has Mr Abbott said has been tasked with “responsibility for the abolition of the carbon tax, the establishment of the Green Army, the creation of a one-stop-shop for environmental approvals and implementation of the Coalition’s Direct Action plan.”
Many of those public servants will soon be tasked with literally dismantling what they have constructed over last six years and longer.
Notably, the Department of Foreign Affairs has been tasked with leading Australia’s participation in climate change negotiations which Mr Abbott said would bring “the right expertise to bear on the management of these negotiations.”
The Australian Agency for International Development will also be integrated into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, pending a recommendation to the Governor General, that the new government believes will align “the aid and diplomatic arms of Australia’s international policy agenda.”
Ministerial responsibility for tourism is also being split down the middle and moving departments. International tourism promotion will go to Foreign Affairs and Trade while domestic tourism goes to the Department of Industry.
One of the biggest winners, at least in terms of lobbying power, is the small business sector which has seen oversight of patch moved into Treasury.
Having taken already substantial fire over the level of female representation on the front bench, what will be made of Mr Abbott’s own Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet will taking responsibility for the Office for Women remains to be seen.
Other functions to benefit from a move to PM&C are indigenous affairs (out of FaCSHIA) and deregulation (out of Finance).
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