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A New Era: the Dutton Shadow Ministry

by Cameron Sinclair •
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In naming his new Shadow Ministry, the incoming Leader of the Opposition, Peter Dutton, has opted to split his teams responsibilities across several portfolios with significant digital and ICT workloads, rather than matching them neatly against the ministerial titles assigned to the new Albanese Ministry.

This decision is due to a combination of practical constraints after the loss of so many seats (18), some unique personal strengths in specific areas, and pragmatic political calculations to focus on the incoming government’s perceived weaknesses.

One of the primary roles of Dutton’s first Shadow Ministry will be to ‘defend the legacy’ of nine years of Coalition Government, ensuring that the various cyber security, ICT, and digital transformation projects that were initiated on their watch will continue to be adequately funded and supported by Labor.

Dutton has largely dismantled the previous Morrison-Joyce era power structures, sending former cabinet ministers Alex Hawke, Melissa Price, Linda Reynolds and Keith Pitt to the backbench, and demoting Stuart Robert to a junior minister outside cabinet.

Science, Digital Economy, and Government Services – Paul Fletcher

Dutton has split Fletcher’s role across two cabinet ministers, lining him up against both Bill Shorten in Government Services and Ed Husic in Science and Digital Economy.

Fletcher brings considerable experience to his new role, having served in cabinet as Minister for Social Services (2018-19), Communications (2020-22), and cyber safety (2019-20). Prior to entering parliament in 2009, he was an executive at Optus (2000-08) and wrote a book on broadband in Australia, Wired Brown Land, after working as an adviser to Howard era Communications Minister Richard Alston in the late 1990s.

A champion university debater, he is described as a “highly capable” and “hands-on minister” in this SMH profile (“A Nerd in Charge”). Fletcher will take a leading role in championing the digital and ICT achievements of the last government, particularly those from the Turnbull-Morrison era.

Finance, Public Service – Jane Hume

The decision to assign Jane Hume to shadow fellow senator Katy Gallagher in both the Finance and Public Service portfolios is notable for being the only ‘neat’ match up among those with digital and ICT related responsibilities.

Hume worked in banking (1995-2009) and had a brief stint as a policy analyst at Australian Super (2015-16) prior to entering the senate in 2016. She held ministerial responsibilities for financial services since 2019, adding the digital economy to her portfolio at the end of 2020. Comfortable in front of the camera, she was the Morrison Government’s designated campaign spokesperson during the 2022 election.

She will have a prominent position in the tri-annual scrutiny of the public service in senate estimates.

Industry, Skills, Training – Sussan Ley

In another split decision, the long-serving Ley (pronounced 'Lay') will shadow both Brendan O’Connor in skills and training, and the industry component of Ed Husic’s portfolio.

The new deputy leader of the Liberal party is relatively unknown outside of Canberra, where she has been a member of parliament for 21 years, representing the NSW Division of Farrer, which stretches from Albury all the way to the SA border. She served in cabinet as the Minister for Health for two years, from 2014-16, before resigning over an expense scandal in January 2017. She returned to cabinet as Minister for the Environment from 2021-22.

Ley’s father worked for British intelligence. She was born in Nigeria and grew up in the UAE and England, before moving to Australia as a teenager. Her career began as an air traffic controller, with stints as a commercial pilot (aerial stock-mustering), shearers cook, and beef farmer, before enrolling in post graduate studies in taxation as a mature student, and joining the ATO (we cordially recommend the extended radio interview from 2014, with Richard Fidler).

Ley will be shadowing O’Connor as he inherits the launch of the Workforce Australia digital platform on 1 July, which has resulted in many government-funded ‘shop front’ employment services closing in regional centres, such as Albury.

Home Affairs – Karen Andrews

The incoming Minister for both Home Affairs and Cyber Security, Claire O’Neill, will be kept under the spotlight by an imposing triumvirate.

Dutton was the inaugural minister for Home Affairs (2017-21) and will be keenly protecting his record. He has kept the previous minister, Karen Andrews (2021-22) in the Home Affairs portfolio, and bought on Senator James Patterson as Shadow Minister for Cyber Security.

Andrews trained as a mechanical engineer, working in both power stations and the oil industry, before moving into industrial relations and establishing her own consulting practice. She was elected to parliament in 2010, serving as junior minister for industry and science (2014-15), and then vocational Training and Skills (2016-18), before being promoted to cabinet as the Minister for industry and science (2018-21), and then Home Affairs (2021-22). She will be keenly watching O’Neill for any missteps.

Cyber Security and Countering Foreign Interference – James Paterson

The youthful Paterson entered the senate in 2016 at the age of 28, after working on the staff of senator Mitch Fifield (2006-10), at the Victorian Employer's Chamber of Commerce and Industry (2010-11) and the conservative think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs (2011-16).

He has shouldered an unusually heavy committee workload as a government backbencher, participating in eight select committees in six years, in addition to serving on a plethora of routine standing, joint, and statutory committees.

Over the past year he has chaired the powerful Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS), where he was responsible for signing off on more than 20 (largely bipartisan) reports scrutinising a wide a range of telecommunications, surveillance, and critical infrastructure legislation.

Health – Anne Ruston

Ruston was elevated to cabinet to replace Fletcher as Minister for Social Services (2019-22), after serving in junior ministerial roles for Agriculture and Water (2015-18), and for foreign aid (2018-19). She spent almost ten years (1987-96) in staffing roles and worked in the SA wine industry and the family business prior to entering the senate in 2012.

Defence – Andrew Hastie

Hastie was a captain in the SAS before entering parliament in the 2015 Canning by-election. He quickly earned broad respect for his work on two powerful parliamentary committees: intelligence and security (PJCIS) from 2016-20; and public accounts and audit (JCPAA) from 2018-19, before being promoted to Assistant Minister for Defence (2019-22), with responsibility for the ASD.

He is now the Liberal party’s only lower house representative in metropolitan Perth, and as a result, will be expected to lift his media profile in opposition. He is likely to focus on scrutinising any decisions related to military hardware, rather than routine defence ICT spending.

Communications – Sarah Henderson

Henderson served two terms as the MP for Corangamite 2013-19, including a brief stint as Assistant Minister for Social Services, Housing and Disability Services from 2018-19. She lost her seat at the May 2019 election but was appointed to a senate vacancy four months later.

After studying law, she had a long career as a news journalist from 1982 to 1997, working for Channel 7, 9, 10, and the ABC. She had a stretch practicing law (1998-2002), before moving back to media, with management roles at Network Ten and National Indigenous Television.

Her experience is more in line with the public broadcasting elements of the portfolio than network service and telco infrastructure.

Other observations: Committees

We will need to wait until parliament returns to see how backbenchers (both government and opposition) are assigned to parliamentary committees, which exercise considerable influence over government ICT and digital spending, policy and related legislation.

The four committees to watch out for are:

Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS)

This committee has a massive workload, with much of it done in private, providing statutory (i.e. routine) oversight over the intelligence community agencies (such as ASD, ASIO, ASIS, DIO, ONA). In recent parliaments (and especially since the 2017 independent intelligence review) it has also had one of the largest legislative scrutiny workloads. By convention it is chaired by a government backbencher. The most likely candidate for the job in the 47th parliament is former defence and security analyst Peter Khalil.

Parliamentary Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit (PJCAA)

One of parliaments oldest committees, it was established back in 1913, and continues to examine the steady output of the Auditor-General. While the work is largely focused on expenditure and procurement, in recent years it has also encompassed monitoring cyber hygiene standards across government. By convention it is chaired by a government backbencher. We expect that former deputy chair Julian Hill will assume the top job in the new parliament, but it may go to another one of Labor’s up and comers.

Senate Finance and Public Affairs References Committee (FPA)

The FPA committee plays a central role in senate estimates, taking the lead in monitoring the activities of both public servants in the Prime Minister’s Department (DPMC), and the PM’s personal office staff (PMO), as well as the (recently expanded) functions of the Department of Finance. It is also the default committee for inquiries related to public service. In recent parliaments these have included reports on APS capability, Digital Delivery of government services, and Commonwealth procurement procedures. By convention the FPA references committee is chaired by an opposition (senate) backbencher, and this appointment is usually based on seniority.

Senate Community Affairs References Committee

The community affairs committee has a strong focus on government service delivery in the health and social services portfolios, and conducted lengthy inquiries into both cashless debit card and robodebt. As part of a long standing agreement between parties in the senate, since 2009, the Greens have chaired this committee. Rachel Siewert served in the role from 2009 until her retirement in September 2021. Janet Rice has held the position ever since, which is likely to continue.

Parliament is scheduled to return on Tuesday 26 July and committee assignments should be announced by Thursday 28 July.

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