A tale of two ministers


Once upon a time there was a cabinet reshuffle in Australia.

A man named Turnbull had just become Prime Minister, for reasons we won’t discuss here, and decided to reward his supporters with new portfolios and associated perks.

One of the winners here was little know NSW senator, Marise Payne, who was moved from being Minister for Human Services into being Minister for Defence.

The usual suspects were rather pleased. Progressive intelligent Mr Turnbull was promoting women in his ministry, and for the first time ever Australia had a female Defence Minister. Take that Tony Abbott. (Also take that Rudd/Gillard/Rudd who also completely failed to have a female Defence Minister, but mainly Tony Abbott.)

People were pleased. Most of these people didn’t actually work in Defence but that was not important.

Marise Payne and some old white guy.

Marise then went on to do basically nothing of any significance. She oversaw the last few months of the 2016 Defence White Paper, and announced the much discussed South Australian based future submarine project. Considering just how established these projects were when she took over, neither of these achievements were really much to brag about.

Then came the 2016 election and associated cabinet reshuffle, an act partly brought on by the fact that new cabinets are basically expected by the public, and partly because a lot of Turnbull’s old friends had suddenly been forced to consider new non-Canberra based employment options.

In this reshuffle, Payne kept her position of Defence Minister, and Christopher Pyne – who’s personal election campaign within South Australia consisted of mass amounts of posters with pictures of submarines, below the words ‘Pyne Delivers’ – was given the newly created role of Minister for Defence Industry.


In basic terms, this now meant that Pyne was allowed to run around making high profile announcements while standing in front of impressive pieces of equipment while Payne didn’t. Pyne was now allowed to travel the country visiting defence contractors and watch live firing trials, while Payne effectively sits in her office and prays the ADF doesn’t have another cadet sex scandal.

And that’s it.

Marise Payne’s own website, at time of writing in early June, lists in its Latest News section a grant to local sport, CCTV in the Blue Mountains and a local park with some link to tourism. All very exciting.

christopher pyne photo
Christopher Pyne. Photo by Policy Exchange

All very ADF and all over two weeks old. Clearly a busy senator our Marise. Maybe not good examples but let us also look at the media release page from the Department of Defence Ministers dot gov dot au webpage. If we take the May budget as a semi-random starting point and work back towards the most recent, we have 11 press releases. Nine of those name check Christopher Pyne within the displayed lead in paragraph, one mentions Payne and the remaining one is a more generalised ‘Turnbull Government’. True, should one be bored enough to open and read the full releases mentioned we may find differing results, but the clear impression being given by the government’s own webpage is that Pyne is nine times more active than Payne currently is.

Marise, Australia’s first woman Defence Minister, announced to much fanfair by the Love Media as proof that we finally had a Prime Minister who didn’t look at his watch when being spoken to by the female persuasion, has been not as much quietly sidelined from the team as sidelined, showered, changed, shuffled out into the carpark and into the nearest empty bus.

What has happened?

Is this just another sign of Turnbull’s failing control over his own party? Did he allow himself to be massively brow beaten by Pyne into allowing the South Australian to take choice high publicity cuts of the defence portfolio? Was Payne so drastically underperforming that Turnbull had no choice but to reassign her responsibilities, and if so, was he so afraid of being labelled as a watch glancer by the feminist media that he split up her role rather than having the courage to just sack her?

One must question what is it exactly that Payne now does. Managing the ADF shouldn’t really be that much of a difficult task. It is a professional organisation of long standing and has existed under various banners for over a hundred years in spite of governmental micro management, not because of it. Her job does seem little more than ensuring co-ed cadets have limited Skype access, yet most surprising is the fact that Payne does seem to have openly accepted this with next to no hints anywhere that she has any intent at all in changing this situation or even raising her own profile.

Still, Marise, we here at XYZ do salute you. Not so much because we are impressed by your achievements, are awed by the way the Love Media has continued to champion your career, or even for the way that the Feminist Collective have rallied behind you in protest at the blatant sexist reduction in your powers. Instead XYZ salutes you because if you keep up your current public and professional image, soon the ADF certainly won’t be doing it.

We’re your XYZ.

Photo by Secretary of Defense