Wed, Dec 20, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Turnbull goes rural in Cabinet reshuffle to widen appeal

LOCAL RECRUITS:Two Queensland lawmakers join the front bench after the government’s poor showing in the nation’s third-most populous state

Reuters, SYDNEY

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday named a new attorney general and promoted two junior lawmakers from rural Queensland state to his Cabinet in a reshuffle he hopes will bolster his flagging popularity.

Australian leaders often revamp Cabinets before the start of a new year, but for center-right Turnbull the move is an attempt to salvage his leadership, ravaged by dismal opinion polls.

Last month, Turnbull’s ruling Liberal-National coalition made its worst showing in a Queensland election in more than a decade, when it won 34 percent of the vote as Pauline Hanson’s populist One Nation clawed into its conservative base.

A large number of marginal seats in the nation’s third-most populous state of Queensland often give its voters a crucial say in deciding federal elections.

The reshuffle was sparked by the resignation of Attorney General George Brandis from the Senate. Turnbull said he would ask Brandis to be the nation’s next high commissioner, or ambassador, to the UK.

Turnbull gave Cabinet positions to Queenslanders John McVeigh (minister for regional development) and David Littleproud (minister for agriculture).

He dropped minister for infrastructure Darren Chester, from the urban state of Victoria, giving the portfolio to Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, the leader of the Nationals, which features prominently in Queensland.

“It’s a ministry that showcases the depth of the Liberal and National team, with well-earned promotions for talented individuals, a number of young and upcoming MPs bringing new skills and energy to the front bench,” Turnbull told reporters in Sydney.

Asked why he removed Chester, Turnbull said his Cabinet had “to take into account matters of geography,” but did not elaborate.

The pitch to voters in the northeastern state of Queensland was obvious, said Stewart Jackson, a specialist in Australian politics at the University of Sydney.

“Everybody’s been spooked by One Nation,” Jackson said. “The emphasis will shift back towards Queensland where the National Party was traditionally strong.”

The overhaul also brings youth into a government that has narrowly retained its razor-thin majority in parliament after a constitutional crisis triggered a series of byelections.

Littleproud and McVeigh are 41 and 52 respectively. The new attorney general, minister for social services Christian Porter, from the iron ore-rich state of Western Australia, is 47.

Minister for Employment Michaelia Cash, who takes the expanded title of minister for jobs and innovation, and Nationals member Bridget McKenzie, who joins the Cabinet as minister for sport, rural health and regional communications, are also 47.

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