Labor leader Anthony Albanese announces his shadow cabinet with Bill Shorten as shadow minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, Richard Marles as deputy opposition leader and Kristina Keneally as deputy leader of the Opposition in the Senate. Picture: Brook Mitchell/Getty
Labor leader Anthony Albanese announces his shadow cabinet with Bill Shorten as shadow minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, Richard Marles as deputy opposition leader and Kristina Keneally as deputy leader of the Opposition in the Senate. Picture: Brook Mitchell/Getty

Dutton’s brutal swipe is just the beginning

ANALYSIS

Don't let the instant Dutton-Keneally brawl distract you from the real showdowns emerging as the new Government and new Opposition collide.

The battles of greater substance will be over our health and wages systems and our constitution, and will be fierce.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton yesterday took just a few hours to launch savage attacks on the policy and capacity of Labor's first shadow home affairs minister Kristina Keneally.

And it was on.

The contest between two high-profile personalities, both unused to taking backward steps, overwhelmed any actual policy debate and was promoted as if it was the only clash of swords in the political colosseum.

However, there is significant parity between the Coalition and Labor on the issues of border protection, and genuine contests of substance could develop elsewhere.

Of greater importance could be the battle over industrial relations between minister Christian Porter and shadow minister Tony Burke; and the health debate between minister Greg Hunt and Labor's Chris Bowen.

 

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has taken a swipe at his new Opposition counterpart Kristina Keneally. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Peled
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has taken a swipe at his new Opposition counterpart Kristina Keneally. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Peled

 

The health engagement will be between a minister with slick marketing skills and a grim and gruff opponent in command of the detail.

Mr Hunt has not been a whirlwind reformer in health but has been a steady manager of the portfolio. The health community, for example, broadly agrees he has made necessary changes to private health insurance problems although more is needed.

Mr Bowen knows the economics of health from stints as treasurer and will absorb further detail quickly.

Mr Hunt's advantage over Mr Bowen is his ability to wring political advantage and kudos from the smallest opportunity.

He has, for example, promoted decisions to add drugs to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme as if the money was coming from his own pocket.

In many instances the decision to add an item to the scheme was made independent of Mr Hunt's involvement. But he has been quick to be in the front of the queue when credit is being handed out.

Mr Hunt shares the aggressive default position of Peter Dutton, the man he once wanted to become prime minister so he could be his deputy. But he has a better rating as Health Minister than Mr Dutton, who in 2015 was voted by surveyed doctors as the worst in 35 years.

 

Despite a war of words between immigration spokespeople Peter Dutton and Kristina Keneally, Government and Opposition policies on Australia’s borders are closely aligned. Picture: Kym Smith
Despite a war of words between immigration spokespeople Peter Dutton and Kristina Keneally, Government and Opposition policies on Australia’s borders are closely aligned. Picture: Kym Smith

 

Mr Bowen was not on top of the politics of the tax and economic platform Labor took to the May 18 election, even though he could not be faulted on the detail.

His policy convictions were solid; his ability to market what he believed to be important measures was limited.

Labor's Tony Burke can sell a line well and will need that in what is looming as a major showdown over industrial relations policy.

On the Government side, Christian Porter has been made both Attorney-General, his role in the former government, and Industrial Relations Minister.

The bundling of the two responsibilities is being read as signalling a two-pronged offensive to tame the biggest trades unions - such as the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union - in courts and in the policy arena.

The combination indicates the Government wants to go on the attack, and that it believes it would have the backing in the Senate to go hard.

 

Greg Hunt is a savvy communicator. Picture: Mark Stewart
Greg Hunt is a savvy communicator. Picture: Mark Stewart

 

We are unlikely to see a new version of WorkChoices, which caused big electoral problems for John Howard's government over a decade ago, but the Government will want to contain pushes for wage rises and growing promotion of a pattern bargaining system, which could shut down entire industries and not just individual enterprises.

And to round things off, Mr Porter will be government leader in the House of Representatives, and his opponent will be manager of opposition business Tony Burke.

This will add to the potential for a battle of parliamentary tactics as well as policies.

In his spare time, Mr Porter will be face demands for referendums on a range of matters from recognition of the indigenous to the creation of a republic.

If he is not be attempting to bat away Mr Burke, he will have to deal with shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus.


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