Prime Minister cuts portfolio names and functions down to size

By Julian Bajkowski

Less cluttered, better focused, more energetic.

That was message to public servants and the electorate in Prime Minister elect Tony Abbott’s First Ministry announcement where not everyone gets a prize, and some portfolio ministries just plain disappear through downsizing likely to be mirrored in public service agency roles.

“What I’ve tried to do is to avoid long and sonorous titles, because once you start mentioning one lot, you’ve got to start mentioning everyone or they feel that they’re in some way neglected,” Mr Abbott said.

“There will be a reorganisation of portfolios that will flow from this particular Ministry . . . the administrative arrangements order will be published after the swearing in on Wednesday and some reorganisations inside the public service will obviously follow from that.”

(Click here for Ministry List)

Portfolios may have become smaller, but the level of reorganisation and functional compaction ahead is looking decidedly large.

The once high profile Transport portfolio goes into reverse and becomes just plain Infrastructure and Regional Development under Warren Truss. It’s believed that’s where Local Government portfolio will end up too.

Broadband may have had broad policy appeal, but it’s been rolled into a truncated, singular Communications ministry run by Malcolm Turnbull who is assisted by Paul Fletcher. The new name deletes the name of Digital Economy and there is no sign of a return of any Information Technology ministerial function, a move unlikely to impress the $100 billion a year sector.

By far one of the biggest administrative shake-ups is poised to be the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services, Housing and Indigenous Affairs which will answer to a new Minister for Social Services, Kevin Andrews.

That portfolio will lose Indigenous Affairs to its own Cabinet Minister, Nigel Scullion, but gain the often delicate and demanding oversight required in Aged Care that is being separated from the Health ministry. ]

Senator Mitch Fifield becomes Assistant Minister for Social Services and will oversee aged care, where the Commonwealth regulates nursing homes.

Clearly sensitive to any notion that ageing or aged care was being downgraded in focus, Mr Abbott stressed his government’s commitment would not waver.

“I want to get away from this idea that unless you have a minister with your specific interest in his or her specific title that there is going to be any lack of concern. Obviously there are a whole range of federal government programmes as everyone will see when the administrative arrangements order is published,” Mr Abbott said.

“All of these programmes will be under strong ministerial supervision and we are going to deliver for seniors. We are going to deliver for people with disabilities.”

Similarly, there doesn’t appear to be any indication of intentions to merge the policy focused Cabinet portfolio of Social Services with the Outer Ministry service delivery portfolio of Human Services, which goes to New South Wales Senator Marise Payne.

Tourism, in which local and state governments have a big stake, will be separated out into two portfolios with Foreign Affairs and Trade taking on overseas tourism under Andrew Robb’s Trade and Investment portfolio, while domestic tourism goes to the more slender Industry portfolio under Ian Macfarlane.

In an unambiguous message about how the Abbott government sees Innovation, Science and Research, the functions remain in the Industry portfolio despite their names being shaved off the stationery.

“Science, as in the CSIRO, that will be in Industry, where it's been,” Mr Abbott said.

It appears to be a similar story over at the George Brandis’ Attorney General’s portfolio where Home Affairs and Emergency Management appear to have been reabsorbed, even though Michael Keenan picks up the Outer Ministry job of Minister for Justice.

The Minister Canberra’s public servants will be watching very closely is Tasmanian hard man Senator Eric Abetz who has been given the Employment portfolio as well as becoming Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Public Service.

Renowned for his sharp focus on the efficiency of bureaucratic activities and fondness for plain English, Senator Abetz is now poised to be a key player in helping shaping where 12,000 public service jobs may go, as well as improving overall efficiency and performance in the planned Commission of Audit.

Prime Minister elect Abbott said he would more to say about any changes to Departmental Secretaries “later in the week, but stressed that he respected the Australian Public Service.

“I have worked with the Australian public service very closely for nine years as a minister. I think the public servants that I've worked with at a senior level closely and over many years know that I respect the public service,” Mr Abbott said.

“I understand that there's almost nothing that government can do other than through the public service and you won't see anything from the incoming government which indicates a failure to respect the professionalism of the Australian public service.”

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