Government appoints controversial new minister for government services

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced his long-awaited Cabinet reshuffle on Monday, with embattled aged care minister Richard Colbeck holding onto his post, while there will be a new minister responsible for Centrelink with Linda Reynolds replacing Stuart Robert.

The change in the minister for government services, who is responsible for Centrelink, Medicare and Australian Hearing, is perhaps the most controversial appointment, with Ms Reynolds being one of the cabinet ministers under the most pressure in recent weeks.

Ms Reynolds, who held the post of defence minister before taking sick leave for a heart condition, was one of the politicians whose conduct came under scrutiny earlier this year when her former staffer Brittany Higgins came forward to allege that she was raped inside the minister’s office.

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While Ms Reynolds was on sick leave, it emerged that she had called Ms Higgins ‘a lying cow’ in front of people in her office, comments Mr Morrison labelled “disgraceful” and “out of character” at the time.

Ms Reynolds later apologised for those comments.

“I want to express how deeply sorry I am for these remarks and for any hurt and distress they have caused,” Ms Reynolds said in a statement.

“I have never questioned Ms Higgins’ account of her alleged sexual assault and have always sought to respect her agency in this matter,” she said.

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Ms Reynolds will take over the government services portfolio from another scandal-prone minister, Stuart Robert, who has been promoted to take over as employment minister in the reshuffle.

Mr Robert came under fire for his handling of the robo-debt scheme while he was in charge of government services, as well as his lack of empathy for the victims of the scheme.

In his time in government, Mr Robert also delivered a speech to parliament in which sections were written by a lobbyist for a Gold Coast property developer, accepted gold Rolex watches from a Chinese billionaire and was forced to repay almost $38,000 in excess data charges after billing taxpayers for internet access at about 20 times the average cost for internet for MPs.

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Aged care minister Richard Colbeck managed to hold onto his portfolio despite the recent royal commission findings into the sector, which showed the area was grossly mismanaged and in need of reform, and extremely poor performances during the COVID crisis last year.

There were strong calls for Mr Colbeck’s resignation in 2020 when he was forced to apologise for not knowing the number of aged care deaths and ‘missteps’ around the handling of the coronavirus crisis in aged care in Victoria.

Mr Colbeck’s poor handling of the coronavirus situation saw the aged care portfolio elevated to cabinet under the responsibility of health minister Greg Hunt, who then took over the handling of the government’s response to the aged care royal commission.

In other ministerial changes, Michaelia Cash takes over as attorney-general from Christian Porter, who in early March outed himself as the cabinet minister at the centre of a rape allegation going back 33 years.

Labor’s shadow attorney-general, Mark Dreyfus, said that Ms Cash was unfit for the position.

“The appointment of Michaelia Cash as attorney-general is an indictment on the lack of talent, and standards, within Mr Morrison’s government,” he said in a statement.

“Michaelia Cash’s appointment means Australia now has as a first law officer a minister who twice refused requests to co-operate with an Australian Federal Police investigation into the leaking, by her own office, of information which compromised a police investigation.”

Mr Porter issued a statement shortly after the prime minister’s press conference, explaining that it was necessary for him to be removed from his attorney-general post while he was undertaking defamation action against the ABC.

“Accepting and understanding that commencing defamation proceedings against the ABC now requires my replacement as attorney-general does not change anything in respect of the crucial principle that required me to instigate defamation proceedings,” Mr Porter said.

“Given the false claims made about me by the ABC, I had no alternative but to launch the defamation proceedings and I have no regrets about taking that course of action.

“The Federal Court action will allow for the truthfulness of the claims made by the ABC to be tested. I look forward to having these issues determined in a procedurally fair process with actual rules of evidence.”

This is the second cabinet reshuffle by the Morrison government in just four months, after seats were re-arranged when finance minister Mathias Cormann retired late last year.

What do you think of the cabinet reshuffle? Are there any government ministers that you think are doing a good job?

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Written by Ben