Sunday, July 1, 2012

Reshuffle kerfuffle – Part 1: Timing

Other parts coming soon:

• Troy Buswell
• Murray Cowper
• Liza Harvey
• Michael Mischin
• Staff fallout
• Cost to the State

“Curious”, “erratic” and “suspicious” are all words you could use to describe it. Why did the Premier announce his Farnham-esque (“This is the last, last time, I promise”) Cabinet reshuffle on a Thursday while half the Parliament was still sitting?

In politics, Cabinet changes are big news. They are typically planned, with a full media strategy behind it to maximise the bang for buck and minimise any potential criticism. But this one wasn’t.

On the most obvious point, it’s far from usual practice and more than a little risky to announce Cabinet changes while Parliament is sitting and particularly only hours before the last “questions without notice” of this Parliamentary session. The Legislative Council is far less likely than their lower house colleagues to ‘go feral’ in that situation for sure, but nevertheless, the opposition was provided an unusual choice to really misbehave with minimal long term consequences. It turns out the ALP didn’t choose that path this time, but the point is the Premier took a gamble when he declared to the 500 Club fundraising breakfast that morning that he would be announcing a “wider than expected” reshuffle later in the morning.

And the question is why couldn’t he wait until 5pm after question time – or if he wanted the 6pm TV news stations, why not 9am Friday, just 24 hours later? Governments typically only make compromises by rushing out big stories like this to either distract the public (and media) away from some very bad news elsewhere or to circumvent some other unhelpful event, before it happens.

So what else happened on Thursday? There was the “no decision” of Environment Minister Bill Marmion regarding the release of the EPA’s report into James Price Point -but that was hardly something that was going to be overseen by environmentalists regardless. Then there was the Deputy Premier taking the media on a long-planned tour of one of the Government’s biggest claims to fame, the Fiona Stanley Hospital… but surely the Government would have hoped for otherwise “clear air” so nothing reduced the attention on such a good news story??? Other than that, I’ve struggled to find anything else that actually happened, state-wise.

So that leads me to suspect the rush was not to distract from something that actually happened, but to mitigate the chances of something bad eventuating. But it failed, like so many other attempts by this government to manipulate the media since late in 2008.

The threat they were trying to neutralise was of course, friendly fire.

I’m told before the Premier dumped former Police Minster Rob Johnson on Monday afternoon, he asked him to voluntarily resign. Mr Johnson refused and having shown his hand, the Premier was left with no choice but to make it, umm, un-voluntary. LoL

Anyway, there’s two important points that I wanted to make here:

  • To Mr Johnson’s great credit, even after that ugly interaction on Monday and learning that he was to be publicly dumped at some time soon, he attended several public media events AND flew to Melbourne for a meeting of Police Ministers, all the while maintaining a highly professional image.
Don’t underestimate the value of that - there’s been a lot of vitriolic “spit on your grave, good riddance” kind of comment out there since Thursday, but this man learned that he was soon to be publicly humiliated, held it together and got on with his job. Would you be willing or able to do that?
  • The Premier obviously knew from the moment Mr Johnson refused to resign, it was going to get ugly. He should have started this negotiation a long time ago, but I’ll explore that in a future part. However, given that he blew that opportunity and instead chose to thrust it on Mr Johnson on a random Monday afternoon, one might have thought he would also be brave enough to cop it on the chin (sorry about the pun, I’m in a good mood). Instead, he and his team of geniuses (as Minister Collier refers to them) decided to make the announcement while the outgoing Police Minister was on a plane flying across Australia. Good management? Nope. Honourable? I don’t think so. Another disastrous attempt at sneaky media strategy… yep.
And the rest, as they say, is history. After Mr Johnson landed and learned the Premier had done what he did – but only after and Mr Johnson deserves credit for that - he responded in the only way someone who had been treated so poorly could, with grave disappointment.

And given what I’ve just highlighted about our Premier and his advisers, that’s a disappointment we should all share with Mr Johnson today.


  1. Timing was coordinated by Dixie not the Premier. Not fair to blame him for everything, Friday is hair appointment day and who wants to be bothered by media minions and whining backbenchers who missed out during a wash and colour?

  2. Spot on not a truer word written in jest

  3. Political test:

    Name a former police minister, since the 70s, who could be said to have shown more genuine dedication to the cause of making society safer, backing the police against the do-gooder lawyers and toughening up laws than Johnson.

    In short, was there a better police minister than Johnson in modern "crime riddled" era?

    Please don't suggest Michelle Roberts who could not be bothered cancelling a dental apppointment when 9 serious crims broke out of Supreme Court and ran rampant through the streets.

    Bill Hassell may be a competitor for the title but his time was in the low crime, pre-80s Labor era when the left took control of the law and order agenda and the crims were let loose.

    Liberals need to be careful about who they are trying to please with their decisions. Pleasing Johnson's critics like Tom Percy or the usual media types who criticise Liberals any time is hardly a sound strategy for a conservative government.