Aug 20, 2018 Last Updated 11:38 PM, Aug 13, 2018

Canberra, Australia - Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull revealed a new cabinet line-up on the eve of 2018 by announcing a reshuffle that saw five new cabinet members and the axing of infrastructure minister, Darren Chester. Former Social Services minister Christian Porter has become the country’s new Attorney General after George Brandis resignation.

Peter Dutton will lead Home Affairs, which will take responsibility for Australia’s intelligence agencies, national security and immigration.

There will be two more junior ministers beneath Dutton. Angus Taylor will be Minister for Law Enforcement and Cyber Security, while Alan Tudge will become Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs. Michaelia Cash, already Employment Minister, has been promoted to the new title of Minister for Jobs and Innovation.

She will surrender her title as Minister for Women, which has now gone to Kelly O’Dwyer. Bridget McKenzie, who recently replaced Fiona Nash as deputy leader of the Nationals, has also joined the Turnbull cabinet.

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New voices for Pacific broadcasters

THE Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) is once again making changes that will affect broadcasting into the Pacific. From 22 January, ABC’s Radio Australia (RA) will introduce a new Pacific Mornings programme, between 6am to 10am. In a significant change, the programme will be hosted by two women of Pacific island heritage, Seini Taumoepeau and Tahlea Auliitia.

RA’s flagship news and current affairs programme Pacific Beat will be reduced to 25 minutes, with the morning show hosted by Catherine Graue and the afternoon slot maintained by long time broadcaster Bruce Hill. The changes to RA’s broadcasts come after ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie introduced a major restructure of the national broadcaster.

These changes have seen the break-up of domestic radio and TV services, with key staff reallocated to three new divisions:

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Cuts to undermine Australia’s reach

IN September 2016, New Caledonia and French Polynesia joined the Pacific Islands Forum, further linking the francophone Pacific territories with their anglophone neighbours. In February 2017, Radio Australia (RA) will end its French language service for the Pacific. Great timing! At the same time, ABC International – the overseas service of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) – will end its shortwave radio broadcasting to the Pacific.

The closure of shortwave will also affect remote indigenous communities in the Northern Territory. These decisions, taken at a time of tightening budgets for Australia’s national broadcaster, are yet another sign of the lack of commitment to Pacific neighbours by the largest member of the Forum.

In his remarks to the 2016 Forum leaders meeting in Pohnpei, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull pledged: “My Government recognises that Australia’s interests in the region and the complexity of the challenges we face demands more engagement at every level, more integrated policy and fresh ideas. We are committed to a step-change in our engagement, to be guided by a new Pacific strategy.” 

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Jittery race

Turnbull holds on

THE count hadn’t been completed yet in Australia’s triennial federal election and questions were already being raised about party leadership. How long would Malcolm Turnbull be able to hold on as head of the Liberal Party? Would Bill Shorten step aside as leader of Labor? Turnbull’s position was looking shaky because he had called the double dissolution election and exhorted Australians to vote for the kind of stable government that he said only his coalition could provide.

He was also anticipating a massive win. He won but it wasn’t the decisive victory he’d been hoping for. His partnership with the Nationals staggered over the line in a protracted count, taking 76 seats in the 150-seat lower House of Representatives. Not only had Turnbull not received the mandate he was looking for, he was facing a Senate that was even more hostile than before.

There were misgivings too about his ability as leader because his party had come out of the election with less seats than it had when it went in. Labor, on the other hand, has a policy of declaring its party leadership vacant in the event of a federal election defeat. The result meant its leadership itself was up for a vote.

The party rallied around Shorten. Anthony Albanese, the man who was expected to mount a challenge, didn’t. What he also did not do was rule out a contest further down the road. What this points to is a future of instability at the federal level in two of Australia’s main political parties. More importantly for the country, it means Turnbull will be a distracted Prime Minister. 

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AUSTRALIAN voters go to the polls on 2 July, after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called a double dissolution of both Houses of Parliament on 8 May. Halfway through the lengthy 55-day electoral campaign, Australia’s relations with its Pacific neighbours have not been a feature of the election.

Despite this, the final result will have important implications for the region, as Australia remains the key aid, trade and military power in the islands, despite anger over Canberra’s climate policy. Current polling suggests a close result, after Australian Labor Party (ALP) leader Bill Shorten has improved his party’s standing following a disastrous election defeat in 2013.

Shorten, a former trade union leader, has advanced popular policies on taxation, health and education, but must overcome criticism of the record of ALP governments between 2007-13. Leading a Coalition government of Liberal and National parties, Turnbull took office in a leadership spill last September, defeating his more conservative rival Tony Abbott.

The Abbott government’s climate policies were widely condemned around the region, and Turnbull is hoping his foreign affairs team can improve Australia’s international standing (look out for yet another post-election Cabinet reshuffle affecting Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Trade Minister Steve Ciobo and Minister for International Development and the Pacific Concetta Fierravanti-Wells).

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