Coalition ministerial resignations bust 40, setting new record

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Former prime ministers Tony Abbott and Malcom Turnbull, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison (IScreenshots via YouTube)

In another exclusive for Independent Australia, Alan Austin updates the tawdry tally of ministerial sackings and resignations.

IF WE MEASURE government competence by the number of its senior executives sacked over ethical failures, performance debacles or leadership fights, the current Coalition Government is the least competent in Australia’s history.

This matches its record on economic management, foreign affairs, the environment and care for the disadvantaged, on which criteria it also rates as the one of the worst, if not the worst, in Australian history.

The fact that the mainstream media won’t report the record number of ministerial failures – just as they refuse to cover the ever-declining economy – does not diminish the seriousness of the situation.

Ministries and assistant ministries to have terminated in disgrace since 2013 have just reached an even 40. Yes, four zero.


Earlier IA updates of ministerial departures identified four separate categories:

  • A) Ethics and legality: Failure to comply with parliamentary standards or the law.
  • B) Performance: Portfolio mismanagement or underachievement.
  • C) Policy and leadership: Internal disputes over policy or leadership.
  • D) Routine mid-term change: Reshuffles, voluntary retirement or replacement for generational change.

Departees prior to April 2019 are named here, here, here and here.

Recent departures

Since Scott Morrison replaced Malcolm Turnbull as Prime minister in August 2018, there have been seven ministerial departures. They are:

A) Ethics and legality

  1. Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister Andrew Broad resigned over a sex scandal in December 2018.

B) Performance

  1. Assistant Minister for social services, housing and disability services Sarah Henderson was sacked by her electorate when she lost her seat at the 2019 election.
  2. Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie was sacked, although officially ‘resigned’, after the National Audit Office found the sports grants program McKenzie had administered lacked ‘an appropriate assessment process and sound advice.’

C) Policy and leadership

  1. Keith Pitt resigned in disgust as assistant minister in August 2018 over Morrison Government emissions reduction policy.
  2. Matthew Canavan resigned two weeks ago in an aborted move to bring back Barnaby Joyce as Nationals leader.

D) Routine mid-term change

  1. Steven Ciobo retired from the defence industry portfolio in March 2019.
  2. David Fawcett was replaced as assistant minister for defence in May 2019.

Category D is of interest in assessing an administration’s overall stability but does not relate to conduct, so can be set aside for now.

Party comparisons in recent history

The 47 years since the election of the Whitlam Government include three Labor periods under five prime ministers totalling almost 22 years. It also takes in three Coalition stints under five PMs totalling just over 25 years.

A) Ethics and legality

Since the Whitlam era, 42 ministerial resignations were due to ethical failures or illegality. Of these, 32 were Coalition ministers. Ten were Labor.

The breakdown is thus:

Whitlam 3

Fraser 7

Hawke 3
Keating 3

Howard 15

Rudd/Gillard/Rudd 1

Abbott 1
Turnbull 8
Morrison 1

TOTAL 42 — Labor 10 / Coalition 32

[Notes: (i) This analysis includes all executive council members – cabinet members, other ministers and parliamentary secretaries. (ii) Several dismissed ministers have since been reinstated. Being sidelined is not evidence of failure or fault in itself. (iii) Category B includes ministers tossed out by voters at an election where the government was returned.]

B) Ministerial performance

16 ministers have left over performance failures, of whom 13 were Coalition and three were Labor.

The breakdown is thus:

Whitlam 1

Fraser 1

Hawke 0
Keating 1

Howard 5

Rudd/Gillard/Rudd 1

Abbott 2
Turnbull 3
Morrison 2

TOTAL 16 — Labor 3 / Coalition 13

C) Policy disputes and party positions

When we include category C resignations – over matters of government policy and leadership – the numbers even up slightly. But only slightly. There have been 50 of these in the last 47 years, of which 31 were Coalition and 19 Labor. The latter number includes the aberrantly high 13 in the acrimonious final days of the Gillard Government.

The breakdown is thus:

Whitlam 1

Fraser 4

Hawke 4
Keating 0

Howard 4

Rudd/Gillard/Rudd 14

Abbott 7
Turnbull 14
Morrison: 2

TOTAL 50 — Labor 19 / Coalition 31

Taking all three categories together – A, B and C – the total since 2013 comes to 40.

Measuring the rate of exit per year in office enables ranking from the most stable to least stable. We do not include category D here, for the aforementioned reasons.

The ranking (lowest to highest) turns out as follows

 Prime Minister Exits per year
 Rudd (both terms together) 0.72 
 Hawke 0.80
 Keating 0.95
 Fraser 1.64
 Whitlam 1.71
 Howard 2.05
 Morrison 3.38
 Gillard 4.65
 Abbott 5.03
 Turnbull 8.50

Thus the worst government – Malcolm Turnbull’s – has an exit rate more than ten times that of the best two — Kevin Rudd’s and Bob Hawke’s. The rate under Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison comes to 6.24 ministerial resignations per year. That is nearly four times the rate of all other regimes together, including Gillard’s with the 13 protest resignations when Rudd replaced her in 2013.

Media manipulation

During Labor periods, ministers routinely endure fabricated media condemnation. Through the Kevin Rudd era, Minister for Environmental Protection Peter Garrett was castigated over the deaths of four workers in the insulation industry. Remember?
So how many workers have been killed in the insulation industry since the change of government? How many workers in construction overall have been killed each year since then? More or fewer than under Labor? What did the Royal Commission into pink batts actually determine regarding Peter Garrett’s blame for those four deaths?

Most voters remember the anti-Garrett media frenzy ten years ago, but cannot answer the other questions.

For the record, at last update, 49 more construction workers had been killed in the last four Coalition years (till end 2018) as a result of a greatly increased fatality rate.

So this much is clear: Australia’s mainstream media, for the most part, operate to keep voters almost completely ignorant of what is actually happening so they will go on believing that the Coalition parties are more ethical and competent than Labor. The opposite is true.

Alan Austin is an Independent Australia columnist and freelance journalist. You can follow Alan on Twitter @AlanAustin001.

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