Michael Pascoe: The great Australian political leadership cleanout

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr is the sole remaining member of the COVID-era national cabinet, Michael Pascoe writes.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr is the sole remaining member of the COVID-era national cabinet, Michael Pascoe writes. Photo: AAP

Andrew Barr has boasted that he is Australia’s most experienced government leader, having held his job as ACT Chief Minister since 2014.

Nine years is a very long time in politics, even local politics.

More surprising is that Australia’s second-longest-serving government leader has only been in the job for 21 months – the 43-year-old South Australian Premier, Peter Malinauskas.

I doubt we have ever seen a cleanout of political leadership like it. Every parliament bar one (pun intended) has changed leader at least once in less than two years.

Extend the timeline by one more month than two years to include Gladys Berejiklian’s resignation and there have been 10 changes of leader.

The entire crop of those running the place during the worst of COVID-19, gone. (Yes, bar one – but does the ACT really have a government or more of a city council? Canberrans may attack at will.)

Which might lead to wondering if the pandemic took a bigger toll on our political leaders and politics in general than we allow for while we seem to be doing our best to forget the ongoing plague.

‘New faces’

Annastacia Palaszczuk’s excuse for resigning as Queensland Premier earlier this month – she said she decided to make way for change after seeing “new faces” at the last national cabinet meeting – certainly has basis in fact, as well as sounding better than the numbers having turned against her.

The cast of our entire first national cabinet gone. (Yes, yes, Barr one.)

Only three of the changes have been via losing an election – South Australia’s Steven Marshall in March and Scott Morrison in May last year, plus New South Wales’ Dominic Perrottet last March.

Two were worn out by the job – Tasmania’s Peter Gutwein said there was “nothing left in the tank” in April last year, Western Australia’s Mark McGowan cited “exhaustion” in May.

The Northern Territory’s Michael Gunner had enough after the birth of his second child in May 2022 – “my head and my heart are no longer in the job, they are at home”.

Dan Andrews in September: “Every waking moment is about the work and there’s only so long you can do that.”

Gladys Berejiklian resigned after the ICAC found “serious corrupt conduct” by her through her relationship with Daryl Maguire. She is challenging those findings in the NSW Court of Appeal, the case due to be heard in February.

Natasha Fyles on Tuesday became the latest leader to go, resigning as the NT’s Chief Minister under pressure on several fronts, the final straw being failure to disclose a small number of shares in a mining company.

It was Ms Fyles’ resignation that prompted counting the recently departed when I was asked about it on Philip Clark’s Nightlife ABC radio program.

Fresh perspectives

The mass cleanout has left us with relatively youthful political leadership. America’s gerontocracy is not for us.

Anthony Albanese at 60 is the senior citizen of national cabinet now, followed by WA’s Roger Cook at 58.

The second-longest serving member, Mr Malinauskas, is the youngest, with Queensland’s new Premier, Steven Miles, second-youngest at 46.

The younger, fresher national cabinet has been achieving more of late than we were used to seeing from the old Council of Australian Governments (COAG) when agreements were often hard won and new policies slower to be tried.

The most recent, when Annastacia Palaszczuk noticed the fresh faces, for example, “made important progress on key reforms” in three major areas, lubricated by federal money. Progress is worth celebrating.

Nobody should doubt that being Prime Minister/Premier/Chief Minister is a tough job, wearing and constant.

Maybe the next national cabinet meeting should start with longevity tips from Andrew Barr.

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