21/12/2015 - 09:39

Porter lifts profile in Canberra

21/12/2015 - 09:39

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WA ministers hold growing influence in the federal government under Malcolm Turnbull.

GOING UP: Christian Porter has moved rapidly to a ministerial role. Photo: Attila Csaszar

WA ministers hold growing influence in the federal government under Malcolm Turnbull.

It was a little over three years ago, in June 2012, when Christian Porter surprised the political world with his decision to quit state politics and move to Canberra.

That high-risk move has delivered a quick payback, with Mr Porter elevated to a senior cabinet position in September, after newly installed prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, put his stamp on the ministry.

Michaelia Cash was another Western Australian winner from Mr Turnbull’s rise, being appointed to the employment and women’s ministries.

Mr Porter and Senator Cash have joined two other Western Australians in cabinet, with Julie Bishop continuing as foreign affairs minister and Mathias Cormann continuing as finance minister.

It’s a highly unusual situation to have four out of 21 cabinet ministers from WA.

Added to that list of influential Western Australians in Canberra is Michael Keenan, who retained his position in the outer ministry as justice minister and minister assisting the prime minister for counter-terrorism.

In addition, Perth MP Ken Wyatt was appointed assistant health minister – one of 12 assistant ministers in the federal government.

Another Perth connection comes in the form of Tony Nutt, who has been appointed federal director of the Liberal Party.

He replaces Brian Loughnane, who is married to Peta Credlin, the chief of staff to former prime minister Tony Abbott.

Mr Nutt joined the Liberal Party in Perth 35 years ago as a researcher and since then held numerous influential roles, including chief of staff to another former prime minister, John Howard, and more recently state director of the party in NSW.

Consistent performer Ms Bishop is considered a great survivor, having been deputy leader of the parliamentary Liberal Party in Canberra since 2007.

The party has had multiple leaders during that time yet, through it all, she has retained the deputy’s position.

Supporters of Mr Abbott have criticised Ms Bishop for lack of loyalty and duplicitous behaviour during the September leadership coup, but that has had little effect on her standing.

Ms Bishop’s career has not been without its blemishes. Most notably, she had an unimpressive five-month stint as opposition treasury spokesperson in 2008 and 2009; but despite that setback she is now well entrenched as one of the government’s most senior ministers.

One thing that has changed is that Ms Bishop is no longer the only woman in cabinet; the Turnbull cabinet has five women.

Senator Cormann is also entrenched in the government’s senior ranks, after earning a reputation as one of the Abbott government’s hardest working and most capable ministers.

Mr Turnbull promoted him to the position of deputy leader of the government in the Senate, notwithstanding his firm and consistent support for Mr Abbott.

The 45 year old’s rapid rise in Australian politics, after migrating to this country in the 1990s when he could barely speak English, is an extraordinary feat.

Mr Porter shares a birth year – 1970 – with Senator Cormann, and also shares an extraordinarily quick emergence on the national political stage.

Mr Porter was heir apparent to premier Colin Barnett when he chose to leave state politics.

He had already served as attorney general and treasurer, despite having been a member of the Legislative Assembly for only four years.

The former lawyer and state prosecutor spent only a year on the backbench in Canberra before being appointed a parliamentary secretary to the prime minister in December 2014.

In that role, he was charged with cutting red tape, a perennial goal most governments battle to achieve.

Mr Porter’s appointment as social services minister puts him at the centre of political power, and most pundits expect he will rise further.

That may depend on his ability to deliver spending cuts without alienating too many stakeholders in the social services portfolio.

Mr Porter has signalled he is up for the challenge.

“I’ve had a good look at the portfolio through the expenditure review of cabinet process and I’m fully aware of all the problems, perils and pitfalls in terms of service delivery,” he said recently.

“If we want to be generous to the people in greatest need, then we have to be as stringent as possible.”

In his maiden speech in federal parliament, Mr Porter signalled he was up for even bigger challenges.

“One area ripe for economic reform is the federal system,” he said.

“The federal government is the complicated child of five state parents; it is not the product of immaculate conception, although sometimes it has thought itself infallible.

“It now accounts for just over half of all government expenditure, with 80 per cent of the revenue base.

“The states roughly account for the rest, but with only 15 per cent of the direct revenue base.

“These figures reveal great fiscal imbalance, a major problem that is in dire need of reform.”

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