Recommended Sponsor - Buy Original Artwork Directly from the Artist

Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

It was often said of the former Morrison government that it found parliamentary sittings particularly fraught. The same has become true of its successor.

Labor has had a very ragged sitting week, and there are several more weeks to go before the relief of the winter recess.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has been hosing down speculation of a reshuffle, after Immigration Minister Andrew Giles found himself once again in turbulent seas.

The immigration row stifled the government’s sales job for a budget that contained significant measures for cost of living relief – the major issue on which voters remain focused.

Obviously, Albanese is not going to throw Giles to the sharks just now.

But his Friday words are worth parsing: “Andrew Giles is the Immigration Minister. I’m the Prime Minister and I have no intentions of making changes imminent.”

The word “imminent” flashed out.

In Labor circles there is an increasing expectation a reshuffle is likely in coming months. Put it this way: it would be extraordinary if Giles was still immigration minister at the next election.

Albanese flagged on Tuesday that Labor was going onto an election footing – although the poll is still expected to be nearly a year away – with cabinet working on a second-term agenda. A refresh of the team logically could accompany this work.

Organisationally, Labor will soon be headed into a period of intense activity. .

On Friday the Australian Electoral Commission released the proposed redistribution of seat boundaries in Victoria and Western Australia. The new boundaries for New South Wales are imminent.

In Victoria, the AEC proposes to scrap the Melbourne seat of Higgins, held by Labor’s Michelle Ananda-Rajah, (although previously a Liberal seat). In WA a new seat will be created, to be called Bullwinkel, set to be Labor. A seat will disappear in NSW, but it is not clear who will lose out.

The changes will have flow-on effects for many electorates and MPs.

These are only provisional boundaries and there will be submissions to the AEC. But it is considered unlikely to dramatically alter its proposals, and Labor will start its preselections on the basis of the draft boundaries.

One question being asked is whether during the preselection process any ministers will announce they don’t intend to contest the election. There has long been speculation the Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney might not seek another term.

If there were any such announcements that would give Albanese a useful (and respectable) peg for a reshuffle. (Of course, a minister can get re-selected but then announce later they plan to depart at the election.)

Meanwhile, Albanese has to concentrate on cleaning up the current political mess around immigration.

Sensibly, he quickly announced the “Migration Direction” that has caused the latest problem would be rewritten. This had elevated a person’s ties to Australia as a criterion when considering whether criminal non-citizens should be deported. It was a concession Albanese had given to former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (one Morrison had refused to grant).

But actions can bring reactions, and Albanese was immediately fielding a complaint from the present New Zealand PM, Christopher Luxon.

Luxon told a press conference:“We understand Australia is a sovereign nation and it can make its own decisions, but we have great concern about that decision because we don’t think that people who have very little attachment to this country but with strong connections to Australia should be deported here”.

Luxon said Albanese had told him a “common sense approach would remain”.

As he struggled for defences over the immigration snafu, Albanese tried to shift some blame onto the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, which overrode deportation decisions (and, coincidentally, was abolished this week, to be replaced by a new Administrative Review Tribunal). Labor also pointed to criminals who had had favourable decisions when Peter Dutton was the minister.

But the defensive tactics couldn’t counter the damage. And that damage was not only to the minister but to the Home Affairs Department.

Its secretary Stephanie Foster (appointed by Albanese) admitted at an estimate committee hearing the department had not notified Giles when the AAT had overruled visa decisions. That was despite an agreement to do so. It seems to have been too busy.

Giles is responsible for the department but he has reason to be angry at its sloppiness and incompetence.

Is it too much to hope that when a reshuffle does come, Albanese considers breaking up the Home Affairs behemoth? Probably.


The Conversation

Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. View from The Hill: parliamentary sittings have become as painful for Albanese as they were for Morrison –