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To borrow some footy terminology (for those of us mourning the end of the perfect AFL season), Jacinta Allan was always going to make some changes to her starting line-up going into her first sitting week as premier.
But as far as reshuffles go, Allan chose the path of least resistance. Tinkering with portfolios and promoting Eltham MP Vicki Ward into Cabinet from the outer ministry is the AFL equivalent of bringing the sub into the starting 22 and making some minor changes to the midfield.
Opposition leader John Pesutto announced a shadow cabinet reshuffle earlier this week.Credit: Penny Stephens
Oppositions, like AFL also-rans, always struggle to get the same attention as winning teams.
This makes Opposition Leader John Pesutto’s decision to reveal his own new line-up while Allan’s cabinet was being sworn in all the more curious.
Compared with Allan, Pesutto made bolder changes, including recalling twice-rejected leader Matthew Guy to his frontbench.
After years of losing seats, the Coalition has found itself with a serious personnel problem and Pesutto’s hope is that Guy will bring some much-needed ministerial experience to the shadow cabinet and prove that veterans can still be strong contributors (like Collingwood legend Steele Sidebottom who got the Pies over the line with a last-quarter goal on Saturday).
Guy may have lost the Coalition two elections, but he remains one of parliament’s fiercest competitors and comes to his new role as shadow public transport minister with an in-depth understanding of the portfolio.
The appointment of Guy also suggests Pesutto is feeling more confident in his role. While Guy has proven himself to be supportive of Pesutto, bringing back a former leader – who has a track record of leadership coups – was always going to raise eyebrows. While Pesutto could have used the vacancy created by Matt Bach’s retirement to appease the party’s conservative wing and promote a detractor to the shadow cabinet, he instead he went with Guy, suggesting he is no longer worried about internal threats.
Though Bach’s unexpected retirement provided an opportunity for a shakeup, the opposition leader had harboured concerns about his starting line up for much longer. Particularly, the inclusion of shadow minister for emergency services Ann-Marie Hermans, who, while popular, didn’t seem suited to her role. Pesutto made a tough call in demoting her, but it’s probably the right one for now.
The opposition may have been the losers in the big dance, but there is fresh young talent coming through its ranks too. Key among them are Jess Wilson, who was elevated to the education portfolio, and Evan Mulholland, who will be responsible for the homeownership and housing affordability portfolios.
Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan held her first cabinet meeting as premier on Monday.
Allan’s less than dramatic shake up, on the other hand, wasn’t necessarily based on strong performance. As leader, she simply doesn’t have the authority to choose the ministry she would like.
Despite this, Allan made some key tactical moves that should help revitalise the government this term. Granting her deputy, Ben Carroll, the electorally sensitive area of education and promoting young gun Gabrielle Williams to the high-profile portfolios of consumer affairs and public transport should freshen up this third-term government. As will handing the newly created role of minister for development Victoria and precincts to Colin Brooks.
Government insiders report that the recent housing statement is only the beginning of the government’s reforms, and Brooks – considered one of the safest pairs of hands in government – will be well-placed to navigate the monumental task of negotiating zoning and planning changes with councils and developers.
But, as with footy, in politics there is always a selection storyline.
On the surface Allan appears to have patched things up with factional foe Carroll, who initially flagged he would run against Allan for the leadership. Carroll was granted his choice of portfolio, but his exclusion from cabinet’s coveted expenditure review committee keeps him at arms length from the decision-making table.
Allan defended the snubbing by explaining that she will instead lead a thinned-down committee of just four: herself, Treasurer Tim Pallas, Transport Infrastructure Minister Danny Pearson and Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes.
John Pesutto announces his new shadow cabinet this week, which includes the return of Matthew Guy.Credit: Wayne Taylor
Labor MPs are privately nervous about the lean model, fearing it is an early sign Allan will revert to the centralised decision-making that became a feature of the Daniel Andrews era. But ministers were also encouraged by Monday’s cabinet meeting where she signalled she would take a more collaborative approach.
Over the next three years, Labor will find it has a raft of talented, ambitious and impatient MPs twiddling their thumbs on the backbench who can offer the government a fresh start as it seeks a fourth term.
One key personnel change will be required in the treasury portfolio, with Pallas expected to announce his retirement ahead of the 2026 poll. Training up his replacement and finding a candidate ready to show restraint and manage cost-cutting will be crucial for Allan over the next three years.
Just as premiership teams must continue the process of renewal, if Allan is ambitious about winning the next election in 2026 this won’t be the last reshuffle we’ll see.
Annika Smethurst is state political editor.
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