Little wonder Minister has trouble keeping up
THERE is little doubt that Kate Jones is one of the Palaszczuk Government’s hardest-working Ministers. But given the herculean workload placed on her shoulders, she has no choice.
The Opposition brought this challenge to light yesterday when it accused Ms Jones of having deliberately misled Parliament during Tuesday’s Estimates committee hearings.
She told the hearing that nobody – including the state’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry – had asked her to keep the Newman government’s red tape reduction target. It turns out the CCIQ had reiterated its support for a target of some form in a letter on March 31, to which the Minister had replied.
Did Ms Jones mislead the hearing? That is a matter for the Parliament to rule on – either by the Speaker dismissing the matter, or by him asking the ethics committee to investigate.
The far bigger question is how Ms Jones can give due attention to anything, given the multitude of disparate portfolio responsibilities she has been asked to bear.
Her job description is Minister for Education, Minister for Tourism, Minister for Major Events, Minister for Small Business and Minister for the Commonwealth Games. It is a portfolio list that rivals the responsibilities held by the Bjelke-Petersen era’s infamous “Minister for Everything” Russ Hinze – who at one stage was Minister for Police, Local Government and Main Roads, and Racing.
That Ms Jones perhaps failed to recall details of correspondence in her capacity as Small Business Minister five months ago would not be surprising.
Her ministerial diary reveals that on the day in question, she was on the Gold Coast meeting the Lord Mayor on Commonwealth Games matters before donning her tourism hat to attend the sod-turning celebrations for the billiondollar Jewel integrated resort project.
In fact, her diary reads like an appointment book from hell almost every day – when Ms Jones may be dealing with the child safety bungle in education, a small business summit, the myriad demands of tourism’s various stakeholders and overseeing delivery of a $2 billion Commonwealth Games.
And the logistics of just coping with this workload come before the member for Ashgrove attends to local electoral matters – or even starts to consider what Queensland may be able to engineer when it comes to future major events, or any other planning vision across her portfolios.
Being the Minister for Education is a big enough job in itself and should be a stand-alone portfolio – as it usually has been in the past, and is in other states.
But this is not to single out Ms Jones for special treatment. Most of her colleagues in Ms Palaszczuk’s slimmeddown Cabinet bear similar burdens.
Treasurer Curtis Pitt for example, wrestling with the challenge of keeping a Budget under control in an environment of slowing growth and global financial turmoil – is also Minister for the less than complementary portfolios of Industrial Relations and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships. Now, they may be areas of personal passion and interest but they are also a distraction from managing the state’s finances.
Premier Palaszczuk did promise to save some $20 million by reducing the size of Cabinet, and she has kept that commitment.
But in the context of a $50 billion State Budget, the question is at what cost does this relatively small saving come in terms of allowing Ministers time to focus on key areas of policy delivery and planning?
Ms Palaszczuk has had long enough in government now to be able to assess the strengths and weaknesses of her frontbench, and in the case of Ministers such as Jo-Ann Miller there are clear under-performers.
She has also had ample time to consider the abilities of her new backbench, as well as previously proven Ministers such as Stirling Hinchliffe.
Few people would mark the Premier harshly for a reshuffle that injected fresh talent into an expanded Cabinet, allowing her most senior Ministers to truly focus on core responsibilities.