Oct 20, 2015

Squad of Ministers but no-one in charge

The simmering turf war over which of at least four Federal Government ministers is responsible for cities policy took a new turn today when Malcolm Turnbull claimed it was his responsibility.

Since Mr Turnbull ousted Tony Abbott last month to become prime minister, at least four of his ministers have claimed to have responsibility for urban policy – an important area that has been a Labor focus for years but which was completely ignored by the former Abbott Government.

Due to Mr Turnbull’s handling of the administrative arrangements, it is unclear whether Environment Minister Greg Hunt, Major Projects Minister Paul Fletcher, Infrastructure Minister Warren Truss or Cities Minister Jamie Briggs actually has carriage of urban policy.

On Monday, when I directed a question about the Melbourne Metro to Mr Briggs, I was told it was not in his portfolio, triggering farcical scenes because no-one knew who was responsible.

Today, when I turned to Mr Turnbull to clarify the situation, he insisted urban policy was his responsibility.

That is not practical.

Unless Mr Turnbull intends to govern as a one-man band, he must rely upon ministers and have clear lines of responsibility over the various areas of government activity.

Just weeks after the change of prime minister, it is clear there is chaos on the government frontbenches as ambitious ministers grapple for power and influence.

It is equally clear that Mr Turnbull has misjudged the allocation of ministries.

He needs to ensure that someone has clear responsibility for cities and surely that cannot be separated from the Department of Infrastructure.

The Prime Minister and his various infrastructure ministers have talked about their plans to improve the productivity, sustainability and liveability of cities, including by investing in public transport.

But so far they have produced nothing of substance.

Delivering real outcomes in government requires clear lines of responsibility and decision making.