Labor has questioned whether the government is taking the industry department seriously amid a “revolving door” of ministers and machinery of government changes.
At a Senate Estimates hearing on Thursday morning, Labor Senator Murray Watt pointed to the fact there has been seven industry ministers under the Coalition government in the last eight years, along with a number of other departmental changes.
“People tend to serve for perhaps over a year before they move on. Does that sound to you that the government takes this portfolio seriously? If you’ve got a minister moving in and out of the portfolio every 12 months or so, how do you deal with any corporate knowledge or platform for the department to work with?” Senator Watt asked.
In response, government minister Zed Sesalja reaffirmed the Coalition’s commitment to the Industry portfolio.
“The government does take this portfolio seriously. You’re largely talking about things that happened several years ago. I don’t see the relevance to what we’re talking about now,” Senator Sesalja said.
Senator Watt then turned his questioning to industry department secretary David Fredericks.
“How has this revolving door of ministers, machinery of government changes, department roles and names affected the department’s capacity to implement long-term strategic plans for industry?” Senator Watt said.
Mr Fredericks said that the changes in leadership hadn’t impacted the department’s functioning.
“We have an incredibly strong department and portfolio that is able to tend to the short, medium and long term interests of the country. We ultimately report to ministers but I have an obligation as a secretary to lead this department and to lead the portfolio to achieve those outcomes,” Mr Fredericks said.
“Obviously there are disadvantages to a minister being changed but there are advantages too.”
This led Senator Watt to question: “What’s the point of a minister then?”
In late March this year former Attorney-General Christian Porter was appointed as the new industry minister.
According to Senator Watt, in the time since he has been “in hiding”, with barely any media appearances or interviews.
“They’ve put the most embattled minister, who’s not even allowed out in public, in charge of the portfolio,” he said.
“We’ve got a minister who you say is very senior and in an important portfolio and he’s done one press conference about the portfolio, one interview since his appointment. Shouldn’t we just be honest and say this is a minister who is in hiding?”
The government representatives denied that Mr Porter is in hiding.