Senator Marise Payne has been sworn in as the new Minister for Defence in place of Kevin Andrews, who expressed his disappointment that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had decided to move him aside as he looked to the future by making extensive changes to the ministry.
The former Minister for Human Services, who has become the first woman to hold the position of Defence Minister, was appointed in a surprise move amid speculation that Christopher Pyne would get the nod, and despite concerns over leadership churn in Defence. Nevertheless, the appointment has been welcomed given Senator Payne’s long-standing interest in Defence matters.
“Marise is one of our most experienced and capable senators,” Prime Minister Turnbull said. “She has spent two years in the Human Services portfolio, and has done an outstanding job in modernising government service delivery.
“She will release the Defence White Paper later this year, defining our key national security priorities, and she will of course join the National Security Committee of Cabinet.”
Mal Brough was named as Minister for Defence Materiel and Science, and Darren Chester is now Assistant Minister for Defence, having been Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence. Stuart Robert, formerly Assistant Minister for Defence, becomes Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Minister for Human Services.
Former minister Andrews repeatedly called for continuity in the Defence portfolio, in light of the imminent release of the 2015 Defence White Paper and with the Competitive Evaluation Process for the Future Submarine program ongoing, among other things, but to no avail.
“I am disappointed that Mr Turnbull chose not to accept my offer to work with him; frankly, my remaining in this job was not about me, it was all about stability for our Defence Force and its leadership,” Andrews said. “As you know, Defence is meant to be a natural strength for a Coalition government; during this government that has not always been the case.”
However, Australia Defence Association executive director Neil James told the ABC that if the Coalition wins the next election Senator Payne could be Defence Minister for the next few years, thereby providing stability.
“Too often Defence has been forced to take ministers who are in the twilight of their parliamentary career and they have only stayed very short periods, and she is the exact opposite of that,” he said. “There are only about 10 people in all of Parliament who have a genuine interest in Defence issues and Marise has had a long-standing one, and that is a great advantage.”
Senator Payne is the Coalition government’s third minister in the Defence portfolio, as Andrews himself was only sworn in as Defence Minister on December 23 last year, replacing Senator David Johnston.
The First Principles Review of Defence, which was released in April, identified leadership churn as one of the main root causes of “complacency and inertia” in Defence that has hampered change over the past decade.
Andrews is obviously keen to at least see continuity in policy under Prime Minister Turnbull, stating that the White Paper is “finalised and ready for release” as he made his exit.