THE nation’s new Minister for Health and Sport, Sussan Ley, last night vowed her new roles would not diminish her No. 1 task of representing her Farrer electorate.
Ms Ley, who has replaced Queenslander Peter Dutton as Health Minister, was handed the responsibility for sport and has retained her role of assistant education minister, giving her one of the biggest workloads in cabinet.
She became just the second woman in federal cabinet when Prime Minister Tony Abbott made his long-anticipated ministerial reshuffle.
“I don’t think balancing the portfolio areas, with my No. 1 role as a rural MP will alter very much,” she said.
“The last 12 months has been enormously busy anyway, with responsibility in two very different areas in education,” she said.
“I am honoured to be asked to take on these roles — it’s a personal step forward.
“The Prime Minister has indicated the changes are based on merit.
“For our slightly revised team, the overall goal won’t really change in the new year.
“It is about getting down to the business of government and governing for all Australians to the best of our ability.”
Mr Abbott also dumped Defence Minister David Johnston from the front bench and replaced him with veteran MP Kevin Andrews.
Mr Dutton has been given the immigration portfolio, while Victorian Josh Frydenberg has been made assistant treasurer, replacing Arthur Sinodinos, who resigned on Friday, sparking the changes.
The reshuffle just days before Christmas is an attempt to reboot a Coalition Mr Abbott has admitted had a “ragged” end to the year.
He said the new frontbench, which would be sworn in tomorrow, would “reset and refocus” the government.
“This is a good team. It is a strong team. It is a balanced team,” he said.
“It will put jobs and families at the heart of our agenda.”
Mr Abbott used Senator Sinodinos’ resignation to axe Mr Johnston after he said he would not trust the government-owned shipbuilder ASC to build a canoe.
“David has done a fine job as defence minister — he has copped a bit of flack, unfairly,” he said.
And he said Mr Andrews would be a “very, very safe pair of hands” at immigration.
He lauded the outgoing immigration minister Scott Morrison, saying he was a master of difficult policy and administration who had all but stopped the boats.
As part of an expanded social services portfolio Mr Morrison will have responsibility for childcare and Mr Abbott’s signature paid-parental leave scheme, as well as the government’s unpopular welfare reforms.
“He is a very tough and competent political operator but he is also an extremely decent human being,” Mr Abbott said.
“We need good judgment in these areas and that is exactly what you will get from Scott Morrison.”
The elevation of Ms Ley to cabinet has been accompanied by the promotion of Kelly O’Dwyer and Karen Andrews as parliamentary secretaries after long-standing criticism of the lack of women in the ministry.
Mr Abbott stressed all appointments were made on merit.
Acting Opposition Leader Penny Wong said no reshuffle could fix the government’s biggest problem, — its unpopular budget.
“You might change the tyres on the bus but the wheels are still spinning,” she said.
Greens leader Christine Milne said it was the government’s policies the public objected to.
“He can change the faces but the policies have to change,” she said.