Size of government on the increase


The Turnbull government

Last Wednesday FreedomWatch ran a post on the number of federal ministries which also posed the question: ‘Why do we need a federal environment minister?’

We highlighted Prime Minister Abbott’s 42 executive officeholders (ministers, assistant ministers and parliamentary secretaries), contrasted this with the first Barton ministry and the first post-war Menzies ministry then opined about what was to come given the current shadow ministry.

Well – it turns out we didn’t have to wait until the next change of government for something worse, with Sunday’s announcement of the new Turnbull cabinet.

There are still 42 executive officeholders but now a whopping 55 portfolios, compared to 51 under PM Abbott.

There are now 11 positions in the prime minister’s department including the PM, minister for women, cabinet secretary, assistant cabinet secretary, assistant minister for productivity and minister assisting the prime minister for digital government.

Australia now has a treasurer, assistant treasurer and assistant minister to the treasurer, with the assistant treasurer also now doubling up as the minister for small business.

We have a new position of minister for international development and the Pacific, which appears to have been carved out from the foreign affairs portfolio.

Proving that squeaky wheels get the oil, we now have a new assistant minister for science and an assistant minister for innovation as well as a designated minister for industry, innovation and science. FreedomWatch readers may recall that under the Abbott government there was one minister for industry and science with one parliamentary secretary but that stakeholders had complained for two years about there being no standalone minister for science or for innovation.

Similarly, the tourism industry has been complaining about there being no designated minister for tourism (though it was part of the responsibilities of trade and investment minister Andrew Robb who had been telling people for the last two years that he had it under control), but we now have a standalone minister for tourism and international education who doubles as the standalone minister assisting the minister for trade and investment. Yes, you guessed it, in both of these capacities new Minister Richard Colbeck reports to…Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb.

To prove that bigger government ideas don’t die – they just go to sleep, we ominously also have a new minister for cities and the built environment. In 2013 former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd promised that if re-elected he would appoint a minister for cities, an idea he also promoted back in 2009 declaring that what Australia really needed was for the federal government to get involved in planning. Unsurprisingly Fran Kelly noted on ABC’s Radio National this morning that the concept of the federal government getting involved in urban design was originally a Whitlam government idea.

Anybody who has spent time trying to get around Melbourne’s Docklands precinct would likely offer an opinion on the success of big government plans for urban areas.

Time will tell if the new ministry is more or less interventionist than its predecessors but given human nature, the desire of people to impress in a new job by doing something and the demand by stakeholders for government to prove it cares by doling out taxpayer dollars and running more programs, we shouldn’t hold our breath.


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