Prime Minister Scott Morrison and many of his team excelled, but for some an A-grade is an affair to forget, writes Clare Armstrong.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and many of his team excelled, but for some an A-grade is an affair to forget, writes Clare Armstrong.

Federal politics report card: Champions and chumps

OPINION

Faced with the toughest of years, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and many of his team excelled.

But, for some an A-grade is an affair to forget.

Scott Morrison

It may have taken him all year to figure out how to pronounce "barre" (sounds like "car"), but the PM goes into Christmas with an insurmountable lead over the Opposition and a largely unified government behind him.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage
Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage

In addition to steering the country safely through a pandemic and emerging as worlds-best practice on how to handle the health crisis, he also achieved the previously impossible feat of uniting Premiers and Chief Ministers.

There wasn't a premier (including Dan Andrews) or chief minister who did not heap praise on the PM when national cabinet finally met in person this month.

His strong performance has Labor so worried its sparked internal leadership rumblings amid fears they need someone to "save the furniture" at the next election.

GRADE: A

 

Michael McCormack

It's not law that a leader of the Nationals has to always shout and wear an Akubra, but McCormack's relatively low profile continues to frustrate his colleagues.

After narrowly surviving a leadership spill on his first day back at work, he has somehow managed to be the only government minister whose name recognition dropped in 2020 according to polls.

 

McCormack let others lead the fight on rural issues like reopening state borders for harvest, but bizarrely piped up to suggest young Aussies should take a fruit picking holiday where they may also "find love".

MickMack has everything to lose, but he's holding on. Just.

GRADE: C+

 

Josh Frydenberg

How it started: selling "back in black" commemorative budget surplus mugs.

How it's going: barrelling toward a trillion dollars in net debt.

2020 has been an ideologically bitter pill for Treasurer Josh Frydenberg to swallow, but to his credit he's adjusted to the new world order with gusto.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage

Fights over JobKeeper criteria and an unexpected $60 billion saving (which then got spent again) aside, economists largely agree his pivot to an eye-watering level of stimulus has cushioned the impact of the coronavirus.

Falls just shy of full marks for coughing into his hands during a speech at the height of the first wave.

GRADE: A-

 

Christian Porter

Happy Xmas (War is Over) surely featured in Attorney-General Christian Porter's Spotify Wrapped playlist this year.

As co-architect of a kumbaya moment between the unions, business and a Coalition government, he was able to pass temporary changes to the work laws to give employers more flexibility during the COVID crisis.

But Porter may have Yoko Ono'd his own final bill by sneaking in changes to the "better off overall test" to the horror of his new found friends in the trade union movement.

He now has a major fight on his hand to pass his permanent industrial relations reforms, not to mention the government's proposed federal corruption body.

And the nation's broadcaster delivered a less than flattering piece on his alleged antics with women.

GRADE: B

 

Greg Hunt

Not enough masks, ventilators or hospital beds is not a great starting point when tackling a deadly pandemic.

The fact Australia managed to surmount all of those hurdles and more was in no small part down to Hunt.

The states and independent medical experts played an equally important role, but not many national health ministers around the world can claim to have had the success he has.

With a vaccine rollout planned for early next year, the only thing you can't rely on Hunt for is a proper demonstration of how to put on a face mask.

GRADE: A-

 

Simon Birmingham

China used to call Birmo on his cell phone.

He knew when that hotline bling, that could only mean one thing: more money for Australia's export economy.

But now Beijing has a reputation for heaping unfair tariffs, black lists and bans on Aussie products, having refused to talk directly to the outgoing Trade Minister all year.

Simon Birmingham. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage
Simon Birmingham. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage

Despite the new "Coal War", Birmingham has kept local industry on side and was rewarded for his steady performance with a promotion to the Finance portfolio and leader of the government in the Senate.

He leaves with unfinished business, including a ruling on whether Australia can still call prosecco "prosecco" under a new EU trade deal.

GRADE: B+

 

David Littleproud

Littleproud may be temporarily stuck in the leadership waiting room, but he's not been idle during his stay.

After a busy summer responding to the bushfire and drought crises, he was elected deputy leader of the Nationals and took over Agriculture, which is surely the flagship rural portfolio.

Farmers may not all like Littleproud in the role, but considering last year a group of irrigators threw an effigy of him into the river when he was Water Minister, his standing in the rural community has definitely improved.

GRADE B+

 

Peter Dutton

Dutton barely blinked during Labor's repeated attempts to pin the Ruby Princess disaster at his feet.

And his poker face was rewarded when an independent inquiry ruled the federal government was not at fault for the disembarkation of thousands of passengers from the COVID-19 infested vessel.

Peter Dutton. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage
Peter Dutton. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage

With the pandemic taking up most of the public's attention, Dutton focused on taking down child paedophile crime rings, and expertly handling the Defence portfolio during Question Time, *hint hint*.

GRADE: B+

 

Richard Colbeck

There's no way to sugar coat the unmitigated disaster that has been the handling of COVID-19 in aged care this year.

With 685 deaths in the sector, some may argue no matter who held this poisoned chalice portfolio the outcome would have been the same, but that doesn't absolve the minister of the day of responsibility.

Colbeck only exacerbated the situation with embarrassing gaffes like not having the death toll figures to hand during a senate inquiry.

Though extra funding and support has flowed to the sector, aged care has been the biggest failing of the pandemic.

GRADE: F

 

Keith Pitt

Who? Would any voters know who this bloke is?

GRADE: B-

 

Karen Andrews

Before anyone knew what COVID-19 was, Australia only had the domestic capacity to make about two million surgical face masks.

By the end of this year, we will have made more than 400 million.

Andrews also exceeded the government's target of 7,500 ventilators, backed UQ's attempts to develop a vaccine and boosted CSIRO funding (albeit after recent years of cuts).

There's also a tonne of money on the table for manufacturing, though that still needs to be spent.

And she's blasting us back into the space race.

GRADE: A-

 

Marise Payne

As China welded its citizens inside buildings, Marise Payne stepped up to oversee what became the start of the largest movement of Australians in peacetime with the first emergency evacuations from Wuhan.

Her commitment to return everyone by Christmas was scuttled in large part due to Victoria's temporary refusal to take people into hotel quarantine

Marise Payne. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage
Marise Payne. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage

An apparent reluctance to front the media has her critics hoping for a reshuffle, while her unexpected call for an independent investigation into the origin of COVID-19 potentially kicked off trade tensions with China.

But Australia's support for the Asia Pacific region during the pandemic, as well as the victims of the Beirut explosion and successful negotiation of the release of Dr Kylie Moore-Gilbert from an Iranian prison have been some of Payne's finer moments.

GRADE: B

 

Linda Reynolds

A former Brigadier, many had hoped Defence Minister Linda Reynolds was the perfect candidate to bridge the divide between the military and public, but she ends the year as one of the government's weakest performers and her head on the chopping block ahead of a looming reshuffle.

Her inability to fill the void in the wake of the Brereton report into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan has angered both those in the ADF and outside it.

She failed to intervene early when Chief of Defence Angus Campbell backed stripping meritorious unit citations from all 3,000 Special Operations Task Group soldiers and the disbanding of the SAS 2 Squadron, and then angered Australians by accusing personnel in the report of "alleged cold-blooded murder" before a trial has occurred.

GRADE: D

 

Anne Ruston

The doubling of the JobSeeker benefit in the wake of the coronavirus shutdown helped millions of Australians who suddenly found themselves unemployed, many for the first time in their lives.

Ruston oversaw the huge temporary changes to the nation's social safety net and has so far handled the tapering of the COVID-19 supplement, currently due to end in March.

Her bid to expand the rollout of the cashless welfare card stalled in the Senate, but a middle-of-the-night (literally) deal secured a two-year extension.

GRADE: B+

 

Darren Chester

Darren Chester's ascension to the cabinet in the wake of the failed coup against McCormack finally elevated Veterans Affairs to the top table in government.

Yet his voice is often lost on important veteran issues, and he upset many when he fought a push for a Royal Commission into the rate of suicide among current and former ADF personnel.

The government's key piece of legislation designed to assist veterans is now on the verge of the scrap heap after failing to gain enough support in the Senate.

Although the bill technically falls under Porter's portfolio, its backers say Chester should have been out selling the policy more proactively to the community.

GRADE: C-

 

Paul Fletcher

Ultra-fast internet. It's what Australians all want, and after a year stuck inside waiting for Netflix to load, it's clearly no less than they all deserve.

After years of the Coalition resisting a more ambitious internet plan, Fletcher has promised a $4.5bn NBN upgrade so people can Zoom, Netflix and Facetime to their heart's content.

Neither party has a great track record on the NBN front, but Fletcher literally wrote a whole book about it once so hopefully faster internet speeds arrive before the next once-in-a-century pandemic.

GRADE: B

 

Michaelia Cash

Cash's "curry for the country" is not where anyone thought 2020 was going, and yet her viral TV moment was one of the only decent lighthearted moments in this trash fire year.

The highly repeat-watchable video grab came about as a result of her support for small business, namely restaurants trying to recover in the wake of the lockdown.

Michaelia Cash. Picture: AAP/ Stefan Postles
Michaelia Cash. Picture: AAP/ Stefan Postles

Cash also scored a promotion at the end of the year, stepping into the role of deputy leader of the government in the Senate.

Now all she needs is for all those well-intentioned TAFE and skill reforms to permeate the psyche of the nation's job seekers.

GRADE: B

 

Sussan Ley

Scandal-plague Ley has kept a relatively low profile this year which earns her points.

Ley is gearing up for a potential fight with the NSW government over the protected status of brumbies she says are ruining the Kosciuszko National Park.

She'll need to be match fit to get one up on the equally scandalous John Barilaro though.

GRADE: B

 

Alan Tudge

Perpetually embroiled in scandal, not all of his own making, Tudge definitely needs a reset over the new year.

From praising Chinese businessmen who end up charged with attempted foreign interference, to an affair exposed by the public broadcaster, not much as gone right.

He was left holding the can after a scathing audit revealing the government had paid ten times the value for a piece of land for the Western Sydney Airport, and a federal court found as acting immigration minister he engaged in "criminal" conduct. A claim Tudge has denied.

He was also forced to issue a mea culpa after the ABC exposed his prior affair with a staffer, who has since alleged she was pushed out of the office after the relationship broke down.

GRADE: F

 

Ken Wyatt

As the pandemic has raged, Wyatt has been diligently working with Australia's indigenous community on long-promised reforms.

He unveiled new Closing the Gap targets and has declared his "aspiration" to create an indigenous voice to government before the next election.

His test will be in seeing those promises through, and managing the expectations of indigenous Australians hoping for constitutional recognition.

GRADE: B

 

Angus Taylor

Once an ideological flashpoint within the Coalition ranks, energy has somewhat fallen off the public radar under Taylor's stewardship.

That's not entirely a bad thing, but as tensions simmer just below the surface it wouldn't take much for the energy wars to kick off again.

With his conservative colleagues appeased though a feasibility study into a new coal-fired power station in Queensland, and the moderates promised Australia will "meet and beat" its emissions reductions targets, Taylor need only keep his own side happy and hope Labor continues to tear itself apart over the issue.

GRADE: B

 

Stuart Robodebt

Robodebt, need we say more.

GRADE: R

 

Dan Tehan

Will hiking up the cost of arts degrees make aspiring ancient history nerds take up nursing or computer science instead?

Tehan has decided to find out, by using the current cohort of young Aussies (already panicked about their jobs prospects before a pandemic crushed the economy) as guineapigs.

It's exactly the kind of sound, scientific reasoning you'd expect from someone with an arts degree.

His free childcare helped families during the lockdown, though it was a no-brainer given it wasn't parents' fault they were stuck in the house.

GRADE: B

Originally published as Federal politics report card: Champions and chumps


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