Turnbull names new Cabinet; no big reshuffle

His gamble in calling election backfired, with swing to centre-left Labor opposition

SYDNEY • Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has named a new Cabinet little changed from that with which he narrowly won the July 2 election, eschewing a major reshuffle in favour of consolidating his shaky position.

Mr Turnbull barely scraped together a majority of 76 seats in the lower House of Representatives, the minimum needed to avoid relying on support from independents and small parties.

Mr Turnbull was under some pressure from the conservative wing of the Liberal party to include Mr Tony Abbott, the man he replaced in September to claim the top job, but he left Mr Abbott on the backbench.

Industry Minister Christopher Pyne took on the new role of Minister for Defence Industry, gaining control over one of the world's most valuable defence contracts, an A$50 billion (S$51.1 billion)submarine-building project in his home state of South Australia. That has meant a reduction in responsibilities for Defence Minister Marise Payne.

No ministers lost their jobs, and although coalition partner National Party picked up two more Cabinet seats, it did not gain any critical slots on the frontbench from its bigger partner.

Although Mr Turnbull has formed a narrow majority government, his gamble in calling the election backfired badly, with a swing to the centre-left Labor opposition and a rise in the popularity of minor parties and independents.

Mr Turnbull's narrow margin of victory over Labor leaves him likely to be forced to rely on independents, who won five seats, to ensure the passage of legislation.

That raises questions about how effective his government will be in the long term, especially without the support of powerful conservatives.

Industry body Queensland Resources Council praised the appointment of Resources Minister Matt Canavan, the combining of Environment and Energy under minister Josh Frydenberg and the shift of former environment minister Greg Hunt to industry, science and innovation.

"The resources sector requires steady safe hands to ride through the commodities downturn and (also) in the face of a relentless green activist campaign," chief executive Michael Roche said .

But Mr Turnbull's narrow margin of victory over Labor leaves him likely to be forced to rely on independents, who won five seats, to ensure the passage of legislation.

That raises questions about how effective his government will be in the long term, especially without the support of powerful conservatives.

After the election, the Australian government faces even more foreign investment sceptics than before, due to the rise in number and prominence of rural-centric National members in the ruling coalition.

This year, Australia rejected a A$371 million Chinese bid for its biggest farmland holder, Kidman, after Treasurer Scott Morrison ruled the sale was not in the national interest.

A source involved in the current negotiations has told Reuters that bidder Hunan Dakang Pasture Farming would not lodge a new bid until it was clear a foreign-controlled offer would be acceptable under the new-look government.

Foreign investment of more than A$55 million in agriculture is screened by the Foreign Investment Review Board based on national interest criteria.

Australia's treasurer must give the final consent for such a transaction to proceed.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 19, 2016, with the headline 'Turnbull names new Cabinet; no big reshuffle'. Print Edition | Subscribe