‘Political trivia’: Coalition, department shrug off minister turnover

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

The steady rotation of ministers through the industry portfolio has caused only “minimal disruption” to the Industry department, officials fronting Senate Estimates have said, alongside a government minister who described the turnover as “political trivia”.

At Senate Estimates on Thursday, Liberal senator Zed Seselja defended the government’s treatment of the Industry portfolio, which has now seen eight ministers in as many years.

Zed Seselja, Australian Capital Territory Senator and Minister for International Development and the Pacific

Mr Seselja said the industry portfolio had been well regarded and well represented at cabinet, despite the ministers holding it lasting less than a year on average since the Coalition took government.

“Those [Industry] decisions have been taken at a government level and a whole-of-government level but represented very well by those cabinet ministers; Minister Andrews, Minister Porter, and Minister Cash since 2017.

“I’ve got no doubt that Minister Taylor will continue that good work.”

Mr Taylor officially took control of the Industry portfolio earlier this month, following the resignation of Christian Porter from the ministry. Mr Porter had only held the portfolio for 173 days, and his departure attracted strong criticism from parts of the Australian industry.

Asked about the backlash at estimates, Mr Seselja said he rejected the suggestion the portfolio is being ignored and described its leadership turnover as “political trivia”.

“Yes, I think [it is trivial] compared to the fact that we now see over a million jobs in manufacturing in this country, happening under this government…Yes, in comparison to the real issues, yes it is [trivial],” he said.

Labor Senator Murray Watt pressed Senate Seselja on the issue, saying the local industry did not agree that the Industry minister “carousel” was a trivial matter.

Mr Watt referenced an InnovationAus interview with AirTree cofounder Daniel Petre, who said the Industry portfolio had routinely been given to “second or third rung” ministers.

The government senator rejected the description as a “ridiculous assertion”.

“That is a ridiculous assertion. We have an absolutely outstanding minister in Minister Taylor. And we have had absolutely outstanding ministers in this portfolio and they have achieved results that you could only dream of,” Mr Seselja told the Labor senator.

Industry department officials said they had experienced only “minimal disruption” from the minister changes.

“For me and for public servants, changes in ministers are part of our life and we know how to manage it,” said Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources secretary David Fredericks, who joined the department less than two years ago and has already briefed three industry ministers.

“We know how to manage it and the fact of the matter is…this department and the people who passionately work for this department have not skipped a beat through these weeks and through these months.”

Mr Fredericks said the department had made several major decisions during the three-week period after Mr Porter resigned and Mr Taylor was only acting minister, which he said showed the disruption was “far more minimal than it might appear”.

“There were over 30 critical briefs and critical decisions that were made just in that period that Minister Taylor was acting [Industry minister], and some of them were quite important,” the department secretary said.

He said Mr Taylor was actively involved with the department during the time and had continued to be so since being made permanent Industry minister.

“In many ways, the machine which we drive keeps functioning and has to keep functioning,” Mr Fredericks told the Estimates hearing.

“And I have to say Minister Taylor, during that period and subsequently, has been incredibly attentive to this aspect of the portfolio.”

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