It’s now been 153 days since I was sworn in as the Minister for Finance and Deregulation and what a transformational time it has been. The Finance ministry is something I’ve wanted for a long while, for all of the altruistic reasons I believe in such as service to the public and preventing an ALP Right member getting their hands on all the financial levers. It also happens to be a position Julia’s been badgering me to take up ever since Lindsay announced his retirement last year.
I know you’ll be fascinated with the specific reasons why I chose to make the move from Climate Change, so here they are:
1. Money to save the world
There’s been some inevitable uninformed opinion (even beyond Channel 7’s Mark Riley) that I jumped from Climate Change because of our inability to get our CPRS through the parliament. What a load of bullshit: I’m moving to Finance because I can expand my work in saving the world’s climate.
With my mentee Greg Combet in my old job, and my hand on the pen that’s writing the cheques, even more stuff can be achieved. I don’t want to sully the reputation of my predecessor Lindsay Tanner, but his views on climate change were a little more conservative than mine, mostly due to his denial of his own cranial deforestation issues. With my ability to heavily influence spending priorities across the whole scope of portfolios, a whole-of-government approach to reducing greenhouse emissions is finally nearing reality.
2. Spreading the intellectual rigour
As a policy leader in the Government, I’m required to provide mentoring and broad support to other ministers. This only partially worked when I was in Climate Change, but now that every single minister needs my sign-off on expenditure, it’s a different story. Whether it’s Kevin needing a cab charge or Garrett wanting money for a school he’s now responsible for not stuffing up, they will all receive the benefit of my oversight and compulsory input. Even at the terminology end of the spectrum, I’ll be able to ensure everyone uses the right words at the right time. It’ll be "targeted policy funds" rather than "programmatic fiscal specificity" and "real initiatives" instead of "Departmental-identified implementation roadmaps" to name two.
3. Preparing for the future
Some people say that openly espousing one’s ambitions can be tawdry. My view is it makes one more ethical and transparent and emits a self-confidence that can perpetuate the power sought. My promotion to this central position in the Government obviously will send a message about my longer-term future. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but what’s important in the meantime is my commitment to ensuring the Gillard Government further enhances its reputation as a fiscally responsible, socially and environmentally progressive powerhouse of ideas. Not having to babysit Garrett is purely an unexpected bonus.
Achievements to Date
Over the past five months or so, Wayne and I have developed an incredibly effective and productive working relationship. I have to admit I’ve been surprised just how effective it’s been given our factional differences, his hatred of Rick Springfield and a very awkward dancing experience at the 1998 ALP National Conference dinner in Hobart.
What’s bound us together tightly is the common passion to navigate Australia through some of the most troubled waters it has experienced in generations. Where there have been challenges that would have had Peter Costello soiling himself with fear, we’ve delivered substantive outcomes with only a skidmark or two. Whether it’s the aftershocks of the GFC, infrastructure funding after the tragic floods, bushfires and Cyclone Yasi, or Kim Carr’s expense account, we’ve developed cohesive, high-impact strategies to ensure optimal outcomes for the country.
That said, we have so much more to achieve. Every day we focus on ensuring the budget gets back to surplus as soon as environmentally possible. That includes even stricter expectations of performance within the wider ministry.
Greg Combet is on his second warning for the bad timing of environmental disasters — not one such event occurred while I was the climate change minister. I was on leave when the horrific Victorian bushfires occurred — and Garrett had taken on the role.
We’ve even convinced Julia to reduce the level of expenditure on prank pizzas, plumber call-outs and other miscellaneous deliveries to Mark Latham’s house. It’s that level of team cohesion that is proving to be the winnable formula for us, and I have no doubt it’ll continue right up until pre-selection season before the next election.
Oh — and please buy my book — 100 per cent of profits go to charity, so the battling kids of Australia can achieve what I have. And since Latham left no-one really writes books anymore (unless you count Stephen Conroy’s Buffy fan fiction).
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