Australian Minister Crisis: Our Leader Knowledge Deficit

English: en:Julie Bishop, Deputy Leader of the...

Julie Bishop, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Australia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today I had a brief but interesting conversation with a work colleague which ended in this person angrily denouncing the background of former Finance Minister Penny Wong – explaining that she didn’t really have any finance experience at all, and also revealing they voted Liberals in the same sentence.  I took the mention of these two things together to suggest my colleague was making the assumption that the Liberal party had candidates that were more educated and better suited to their roles.  So I decided to do a bit of my own research and answer the question with some actual evidence.

I created a spreadsheet of each of the newly announced Ministers for the Abbott Government and compared them against the previous Labor Government minister that was in the role the longest (as there were quite a few changes at the end – but I’m going to ignore those for the purpose of this exercise.  Then I went about confirming the educational and industry experience background of each and every single member and based on that, judging whether their experience and education was relevant to their appointed portfolio.

Note that I have NOT counted experience managing a folio in government as “experience” in the industry.  I don’t think this information is available anywhere on the internet and it took me about 4 hours to do so hopefully its useful to people other than my curious-self!

Alright, drum roll for the results…

AUSTRALIAN LIBERAL PARTY MINISTERS
(Newly appointment Abbott Government Ministers)

Portfolio Liberal Minister Education Experience Relevant?
Prime Minister Tony Abbott Bachelor Economics, Law Journalist, Plant Manager, Political Advisor (10 yrs), Parliament (17 yrs) N/A
Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop Bachelor Law, Harvard Mgmt Program Lawyer (20yrs), Parliament (14yrs) No
Infrastructure & Regional Development Warren Truss Highschool Farmer, Chair on multiple regional agriculture boards (12yrs), Parliament (12yrs) Part
Employment Eric Abetz Bachelor Arts, Law Lawyer (28yrs), Parliament (6 yrs) No
Arts George Brandis QC  Bachelor Arts/Law, BA Civil Law Lawyer (20yrs), Parliament (7yrs) No
Social Services Kevin Andrews Bachelor Arts, Law, Masters Layer/Lawyer Education/assistance (11yrs), Parliament (22 yrs) No
Human Services Marise Payne Bachelor Arts, Law Political and public affairs advisor (10 yrs), Parliament (16 yrs) No
Small Business Bruce Billson Bachelor Business, DipEd Mgmt Public Service (3yrs), Parliament (17yrs) No
Environment Greg Hunt Bachelor Arts, Law, MA Public servent – advisor on foreign policy (10yrs), Parliament (12yrs) No
Immigration & Border Protection Scott Morrison  Bachelor Science Policy and research council (6 yrs) Senior roles in tourism (7 yrs), Parliament (6yrs) Part
Finance Matthias Corman Bachelor Law Health (4yrs), Public service (7yrs), Parliament (6 yrs) No
Health and Sport Peter Dutton Bachelor Business Police Officer (9yrs), Parliament (12yrs) No
Defence David Johnston Bachelor Jurisprudence Barrister & Solicitor (20 yrs), Parliament (17yrs) No
Agriculture Barnaby Joyce Bachelor Commerce Grew up on cattle farm, Army reserve  (5yrs), Accountant (5-10yrs), Parliament (5-10yrs) Part
Justice Michael Keenan Bachelor Arts, Philosophy Bar attnt/salesman (8 yrs), real estate  (4 yrs), Parliament (6 yrs) No
Education Christopher Pyne  Bachelor Law Public service (3yrs), Solicitor (3yrs), Parliament (20yrs) No
Industry Ian Macfarlane  Highschool Farmer, President on multiple regional agriculture boards (25yrs), Parliament (10 yrs) Yes
Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion  Rural leadership program graduate Fisherman, Business Owner, Mining co researcher & manager, company director, Seafood councils, Parliament (11 yrs) No
Veterans Affairs & ANZAC Michael Ronaldson  Bachelor Law Barrister & Solicitor (18 yrs), Parliament (21yrs) No
Trade and Investment Andrew Robb  Bachelor Economics and Agricultural Science Animal health officer (2 yrs), Agricultural economics (5 yrs), ED Farmers Assoc (7 yrs), Senior exec/SEO/Chair multiple pharma co’s, Praliament (9 yrs) Yes
Communications Malcolm Turnbull  Bachelor Arts, Law, Civil Law Journo (4 yrs), Barrister/Gen Counsel (7 yrs), Biz owner & grazier (10yrs), Chairman Ozemail (5 yrs), Parliament (12yrs) Yes
Housing & Homelessness N/A N/A N/A N/A
Financial Services & Superannuation N/A N/A N/A N/A
Treasurer Joe Hockey Bachelor Arts, Law Banking and finance lawyer/public policy (10 yrs), Parliament (14 yrs) Part


AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY MINISTERS
(Rudd Government Ministers / Gillard Government Ministers)
*Note, I have chosen the “main” minister – that is, the minister that spent the most time in the position while Labor was in government.

Portfolio Main Labor Minister Changes Education Experience Relevant?
Prime Minister Juilia Gillard 1 Bachelor Arts, Law Industrial Lawyer (12 yrs), Parliament (15 yrs) N/A
Foreign Affairs Kevin Rudd 2 Bachelor Arts Diplomat (7yrs), CoS/Dir-Gen (7yrs), China consultant(3yrs), Parliament (15yrs) Yes
Infrastructure & Regional Development Anthony Albanese 0 Bachelor Economics Bank officer (1yr) and researcher (4 yrs), Party official (6yrs), Policy advisor (1yr), Parliament (17yrs) No
Employment Bill Shorten 3 Bachelor Arts/Law Superannuation director (9 yrs), Workers Union (6 yrs), Parliament (6yrs) Yes
Arts Simon Crean 2 Bachelor Law, BA Economics Labour Unions (20yrs), Parliament (23yrs) No
Social Services Jenny Macklin 0 Bachelor Comms Researcher (9 yrs), Health strategy (8yrs), Parliament (10yrs) Yes
Human Services Multiple: no one had this role for more than 12 months under the former Labor govt 5 Multiple Multiple No
Small Business Gary Gray 4 Bachelor Economics ALP Secretariat (14yrs), ED Med research (1yr), Snr Mining exec (6 yrs), parliament )6yrs) Part
Environment Tony Burke 2 Bachelor Arts, Law Shop assistant (9 yrs), Electorate office (2 yrs), Union (7 yrs) No
Immigration & Border Protection Chris Bowen 3 Bachelor Economics Researcher (1yr), Union (5 yrs), Public service (6 yrs), Parliament (9 yrs) No
Finance Penny Wong 2 Bachelor Arts/Law Law (6), Unions (4yrs), Parliament (11yrs) No
Health and Sport Tanya Plibersek 1 Bachelor Comms/Masters Politics & public Policy 20 years in public policy and parliament No
Defence Stephen Smith 2 Bachelor Law Barrister/Tutor (7yrs), party treasurer & advisor (10 yrs), Parliament (10yrs) No
Agriculture Joe Ludwig 2 Bachelor Arts, Law Industrial inspector (10 yrs), Training consultant (6yrs), Parliament (13yrs) Part
Justice Jason Clare 1 Bachelor Arts, Law Corp relations (4 yrs), Policy advisor (6 yrs), Parliament (10yrs) No
Education Peter Garrett 4 Bachelor Arts Musician and activist (28yrs), Parliament (11yrs) No
Industry Kim Carr 2 Bachelor Arts, MA, DipEd Teacher (11 yrs), Ministerial advisor and policy analyst, parliament (20 yrs) No
Indigenous Affairs Jenny Macklin 0 Bachelor Comms Researcher (9 yrs), Health strategy (8yrs), Parliament (10yrs) No
Veterans Affairs & ANZAC N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Trade and Investment Craig Emerson 3 Bachelor/MA/PhD Economics, PhD Philosophy UN Economic analyst, CEO SQ transit authority, Public service (10 yrs), Parliament (20 yrs) Part
Communications Stephen Conroy 1 Bachelor Economics Superannuation officer, research assistant, Parliament (14 yrs) No
Housing & Homelessness Brendan O’Connor 5 Bachelor Arts, Law Union official (11 yrs), Parliament (12 yrs) No
Financial Services & Superannuation Bill Shorten 3 Bachelor Arts/Law Superannuation director (9 yrs), Workers Union (6 yrs), Parliament (6yrs) Yes
Treasurer Wayne Swan 1 Bachelor Arts Lecturer (12 yrs), Analyist and advisor (4 yrs), Parliament (14 yrs) No

I also did a quick analysis of a number of other things I often hear people spouting like “There’s much more experience in Liberal” or “Labor are riddled with Unionists” or “Liberals have a shitload of Lawyers”…or something along those lines.  Now here’s the truth:

Item Liberal Labor
Number of Lawyers 13 (59%) 11 (47%)
Number of Unionists 0 (0%) 6 (26%)
Number of Biz/Comm/Economists 5 (21%) 6 (26%)
Number of Arts Degrees 8 (33%) 12 (52%)
Years experience in Parliament 272 years 265 years

SO WHAT HAVE I LEARNED…

  1. The level of appropriate skills matching between ministers and their portfolios is an absolute JOKE with BOTH parties, in the Liberal Party only Malcolm Turnbull, Andrew Robb and Ian Macfarlane had the necessary industry background for their roles.  In Labor – only Bill Shorten, Jenny Macklin (not her role in Indigenous Affairs) and Kevin Rudd (as Foreign Minister) had the necessary backgrounds for their roles.  This is just not good enough.  There wouldn’t be a CEO in the world (unless he or she were a startup CEO), who would be hired by the board if they didn’t have extensive experience in their area.  Let’s take Telstra CEO David Thodey for example.  He worked in sales and the senior exec positions for IBM and then Telstra for close to 20 years…the guy knew his telecommunications before he stepped into a role with a company that hires 45,000 Australians and manages 25.5 billion in annual revenues.  Yet, just as an example Marise Payne who managers Human Services has no background in it, and yet she’s responsible for a portfolio containing Medicare AND Centrelink – equal to probably over 200 billion or more each year!  Whhhhatttt?  Let me make this clear to BOTH parties: 20 years experience as a Lawyer DOES NOT make you an experienced leader fit for a role managing a portfolio you know nothing about – no matter how you want to argue it!
  2. There is WAY too much change, surely making it nigh on impossible for anyone to get any real work done when ministerial management changes up to once every year.
  3. A bunch of Lawyers run our country…well 50% at least.  And its NOT just Liberals…its both parties.  Given the kind of mistrust most people have for the profession, its no wonder people are apathetic about politicians, and its no wonder they’re so good at spinning the truth – that’s what they’re all trained for.
  4. It’s true, Labor DO have more Unionists in their ranks (just over a quarter to be precise) – given Liberals have zero.  This claim is true.
  5. Labor actually has more finance knowledge and capability than the Liberals (based on education and experience alone – obviously I can’t judge talent), but it IS true that Wayne Swan as Treasurer, didn’t have broad experience in finance, although he was acting treasurer for many years.


Putting all of this another way just to show the absurdity…

  • We have Indigenous Affairs ministers who have never lived in Northern Territory where majority of the aboriginal population reside
  • We have Education Ministers who have never been teachers or principals or curriculum advisors
  • We have Health ministers who have never been doctors or nurses or health executives
  • We have Finance ministers and Treasurers who never did a degree in economics or finance
  • We have Ministers for Small Business who have never run their own business
  • We have Defense Ministers who have never fought in a war
  • We have social and human services ministers who have never worked in and with those disaffected communities
  • We have employment ministers who have never hired someone or been a HR manager
  • We have housing and homelessness ministers who have never worked in real estate or construction, or worked for any organisation that assists with homelessness

Ultimately, we have Ministers who seem so intellectually and emotionally removed (in terms of their non-parliament backgrounds) from the areas they look after, its beyond me how this country gets anything done at all.  How can they truly represent the country without having strong knowledge of the areas they look after?  It’s absolutely bizarre.  I guess we have to thank the public servants in making up for the shortcomings of their on-again/off-again bosses.

Thoughts people?  Is this a serious gap or a non-issue for you?

*If you want a copy of the excel spreadsheet, let me know and I can send you a copy.

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Carbon Tax vs. PM Tony Abbott’s “Democracy”

Carbon TaxWhen Prime Minister Abbott says things like “Australians have made it clear by their vote, they want us to carry out our promised policies” in referring to the Coalition’s plan to scrap Labor’s carbon tax, I want to point out a few key things to Australians and to our politicians:

1.  When Australians turn 18, they are given the opportunity to enrol to vote.  If they do not enrol, they are not able to vote and they won’t be penalised.  As soon as they do enrol, they cannot un-enrol, and they must participate and vote in each election, or suffer a $72.00 fine.  We are one of only 10 countries in the world who enforce these rules.  In 2013, approximately 14.7 million were enrolled to vote – about 93% of whom ended up voting in the Sept 13 elections.  A record 3.5 million people chose to vote in the week leading up to the official election day.  400k people between 18 and 24 didn’t enrol in time to get a say.  Perhaps they were all taking a GAP year

2.  Our voting system requires us to choose a preference for every single party running in the election.  This means we cannot NOT vote for a party, or our vote will be marked as invalid.  This, combined with the 2 party preferred vote means that at some point, the full value of our vote goes to one of two major parties who have been in control of our government for a century: Labor or Liberal.  In some ways this is great as it means you can still vote for a minor party, while having just as much of a say in the major party that is likely to run the country – however, the general feeling among many Australians in the lead up to the elections, was that they didn’t really like or trust either major party…but they didn’t really feel they had a choice.

3.  It was obvious that the Australian public punished (and rightly so), the Labor government for their severe internal leadership struggles (regardless of all their achievements).  They made their voices heard by doing what they could to show their concern and disgust: changing the number on that all-important piece of green paper.  This resulted in a clear swing toward the Liberal party, and a much higher than average trend toward voting for minor parties or independents.  But…does that behaviour (driven I’d say, more by Australian’s NOT wanting Labor vs. WANTING Liberal), really provide the Abbott government with the support of the Australian people for ALL its policies?

4.  Let’s look at it another way.  Only 70% (75% if you assume 7% didn’t turn up) of the 14.7 million Australians who voted, or 64% of the 16 million Australians eligible to vote – used their primary vote for Labor or Liberals.   And the split was:

  • 4,803,862 primary votes to Labor (approx 35% of total voters)
  • 5,445,378 primary votes to Liberal (approx 40% of total voters)

That means, across Australia, a total difference of 641,516 chose to vote for one major party instead of the other.  That’s not even the quarter of the population of Melbourne.

Now, I am not saying this to suggest Liberals didn’t win fair and square – what I am pointing out is that in governing a country, you have to remember that you represent ALL Australians, and sure, in the two party preferred system, 53% of the country voted for them…but 46.82% did not.  And therein lies the challenge of governance.  In a simple game of footy, we’d see that as a win – done deal, game over.  But that’s not how it works when you’re managing an entire country!

Remember also, the government represents a further 6.68 million Australians who make up the remaining 29% of our population.

Then add to this the fact that regardless of the party you vote for, individuals will have differing views on the range of the policy stances taken by the party and these change over time.  For instance ABC’s poll of over 1 million Australian’s revealed that 61% of Aussies actually think the government should be doing MORE for the environment – not less.   And on the carbon tax, in July this year a new poll revealed 62% of Aussie’s wanted to KEEP the tax.

So here’s a major dilemma: the new Government based their election campaign around opinions from 12 months ago.  How did this shift in perception happen? Fear drives negative opinions before legislation is enforced while people think a tax on polluters will mean a direct hit to their hip pocket. But once legislation is implemented and people realise they’re not out of the streets and homeless as a result, the care-factor goes down a notch.  So now Liberal Party’s key policy…is not so “key” for the Australian people anymore.

Now, let’s forget about any argument on whether or not climate change is, or is not real – I mean, I wouldn’t recommend calling this out as a point to Mr Abbott given that in 2009, he was quoted as saying he thought Climate Change was quote, “absolute crap” (interesting that Mr Abbott doesn’t seem to require the same level of proof of the existence of God but that is a matter for another time!).

So instead, to help Mr Abbott out, let’s look at some influencing factors that are a little more concrete and immediate:

  • Defense and International Security
  • International Relations

You are forgiven for thinking – huh?  What does the Australian Defense Force have to do with any of this?  The ABC reported that Australia’s national Security Strategy sees climate change as a key challenge, and a May 2013 Australia Defense force white paper found global energy, food and water resources were under pressure from population growth, rising affluence and climate change.  Research shows that unexpected flooding or heat as a result of climate change has been proven to exacerbate civil unrest. So, is Tony Abbott really going to ignore the advice of Climate scientists AND our national defense force?  It seems like a rather illogical position to take.

On the International Relations side of things, we’re headed for more hot water.  After agreement to renewable energy targets and a 5% reduction in carbon emissions by 2020, the new government is set to roll back on those commitments.  Climate Change is an international issue, not just a national one.  Our cooperation with peers in the Asia Pacific region, as well as leadership amongst other OECD countries is crucial to how we are seen on the world stage – affecting a raft of economic factors, including investment.

A new report ranks Australia 16th out of 19 countries on a scale of preparation for a low-carbon world.  The only countries below us?  India, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. With the second being a country that is barely able to hold democratic elections and the third being the ONLY country in the world that still doesn’t allow women to vote, we’re not exactly in good political company.

As Australia prepares to take its position as President of the UN Security Council in December 2014, we risk significant damage to our international reputation, as our peers leap ahead of us in their dedication to maintaining a safe future for humanity.  Again – regardless of any personal belief in climate change – Australia does not, and cannot live in a silo when it comes to this issue.  When international politicians and media leaders are calling our new Prime Minister a “Gaffe prone conservative” (LA Times), and a “bigoted air-head” (British MP), Tony Abbott needs to be more mindful than ever of the perception he casts to the rest of the world on Australia’s behalf.

But how could Abbott “save face” if he were to consider an about turn, when scrapping the carbon tax was the centerpiece of the Liberal Party’s campaign?  ABC’s latest poll on what people thought should be Abbott’s main priorites in the first 100 days as Prime Minister clearly show this psychological gap – where Environment is just as big an issue on the minds of Australian people as the Carbon tax brought in to protect it.

Climate Change

So what we’ve established is that the scrap carbon tax policy doesn’t represent the majority of Australian’s views, the majority of scientist views, the views of the Australian defense force nor the views of international country leaders, and certainly not the views of the millions of Australian children who couldn’t vote, but will be the people that will have to deal with any fall out if the effects of carbon pollution do come to pass.  So it seems while leading a majority government, Mr Abbott’ party stance is in fact in the minority on a variety of fronts.

How does Tony escape this dilemma and keep projecting his image as strong leader which was carefully crafted throughout the 2013 election campaign?

Perhaps he doesn’t.  Perhaps he attempts to push the Carbon Tax repeal through, he succeeds, and then only with the benefit of hindsight will the consequences be fully appreciated: because if we accept the information so far, then we can only assume this action is being taken and acted upon outside of the true spirit of democracy.

All I hope for, is that Australian leaders realise (whichever major party is in power) that our ballot cards only allow us to vote for leadership, not each policy, that community opinions change faster than governments can take action, and that NO party, can say that they have been “bestowed” the right to implement their policies and carry out the views of all Australians simply because 24%* of the total Australian population actually popped them as the number 1 preference on their vote card.

*Calculated as: 22,680,000 / 5,445,378 (Total AU population / Total primary votes for Liberal)