Ministerial Reshuffle Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

This week Tasmania landed its third Health Minister in three years – and its fifth cabinet reshuffle in just two. It comes not, of course, with any admission of mistake or misstep by Premier Rockliff. Instead it’s another opportunity for fresh leadership and new directions.

Lyons MHA John Tucker may have hit the nail on the head this week when he described it as, “rewards for failure.” To quote The Who, it’s a case of: “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” While our state continues to be neck-deep in crises in health, housing, child protection, emergency services and corrections, ‘new directions’ seem to be the only thing that isn’t in short supply.

Neither has the Premier announced any change of course from his agenda of public sector austerity charted in the 2023 State Budget. This will see upwards of half a billion stripped from our public services and staffing cut to 2022 levels. A shake up in cabinet, but no change of direction from the shake down of public services Tasmanians want and rely on.

Roger Jaensch remains Minister for Parks and Children and Youth. Tasmania is on course for a hot summer, and we’ve already seen record wildfires and heatwaves across the northern hemisphere. Meanwhile our Parks remain critically under resourced to conduct planned burns or respond to inevitable bushfires. Workers in child protection are struggling with unbearable caseloads that have led to unacceptable wait times for investigations, leaving our state’s most vulnerable young people at risk of falling through the cracks.   

Felix Ellis remains Minister for Police, Fire and Emergency Management. His restructure of the state’s fire service has drawn widespread criticism from workers and former fire chiefs alike. As Minister for Skills he has stood by TasTAFE’s CEO Grant Dreher’s attempts to undercut worker conditions, in spite of the Premier’s promises they would be no worse off following transfer out of the State Service.  

Elise Archer remains Minister for Corrections despite overcrowding and under resourcing that has endangered the lives of correctional officers and imposed inhumane conditions on inmates. Facilities too short staffed to be safely unlocked regularly prevents access to the services and training essential to turning lives around and reducing rates of recidivism.

Guy Barnett, our new Minister for Health, has himself has overseen the shocking increase in power prices across the state. As Housing Minister he helped to precipitate the present housing crisis through a sell-off of the state’s public housing stock, refusing to regulate short-stay accommodation and failing to deliver anywhere near enough new homes to meet demand. Hobart remains the least-affordable Australian city four years running, and even priority applicants for public housing are now forced to wait an average of 55.6 weeks for a roof over their heads.

Whether it shows a lack of skill in Premier Rockliff’s cabinet is up for speculation. What’s clear is that each of these Ministers have failed the agencies they’ve been tasked with overseeing.

Jo Palmer takes on Community Services and Development, Madeleine Ogilvie the portfolios of Women and Prevention of Family Violence. In addition to Events, Nic Street has the unenviable role of taking on the housing crisis as Minister for Housing and Construction. Minister Street has stood out from his colleagues by publicly apologising earlier this year for the lack of funding for community services in the State Budget, which he admitted was “inadequate.”

Being prepared to do something as simple as admit to a mistake might seem like a low bar, but it puts Minister Street heads and shoulders above his colleagues. We can only hope he’s empowered to take action in his new role. His new key stakeholders, renters and those in social housing, are already too familiar with the concept of putting a fresh coat of paint over a moldy foundation (what’s colloquially known as a ‘landlord special’).  

Street will also be busy as the first-ever Minister for ‘Stadia.’ With a sideshow the size of the cabinet, he might be tasked with bringing back lion baiting at Macquarie Point to draw away attention.

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