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"We don’t hang ministers out to dry": Marshall rules out 2019 reshuffle

Politics

Premier Steven Marshall has emphatically ruled out reshuffling his cabinet this year, saying he is more concerned with maintaining “collective responsibility” than tweaking ministerial personnel.

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It’s a year on Sunday since Marshall won an election victory that ended 16 years of Labor rule – and five years today since he fell devastatingly short at the 2014 state poll.

The Liberal leader now insists the extra term in Opposition has stood his Government in good stead, telling InDaily “the advantage we had was we had worked very diligently between 2014 and ’18 on determining our longer range ambition”.

“By and large, we’re reaping the benefits of thorough planning,” he said, adding: “I think we delivered on the promises we made to the people of SA.”

“Historically that’s been unusual for any government,” he adds.

However, not every pledge has been met.

Minor reforms such as requiring public sector superannuation funds to be locally administered have been thrown in the too-hard basket, along with keynote pledges such as the contentious right-turn for the King William St tramline onto North Tce.

And big-picture promises to deliver shopping hours deregulation and cap council rates have been stymied by the weight of numbers in the Upper House.

But Marshall insists “we took the responsibility to turn the state’s finances around [and] deliver on all the commitments we’d promised”.

“I’m not one to focus on disappointments,” he says of the setbacks.

“There’s things we want to concentrate on in our second year in government, including delivering a strong performance in our second budget.”

That’s a task he concedes has been “made a little bit more complicated” by the short interval between his government’s first September budget and the pre-election federal budget due next month.

“We basically worked the entire way through the Christmas/New Year period to put our best foot forward with the Federal Government in terms of their budget,” he said.

The federal mid-year budget statement also pointed to a substantial hot to GST revenues, but Marshall is philosophical.

“GST moves around a lot,” he shrugs.

“The previous government were happy beneficiaries of some unbudgeted increases – today it looks like going the opposite way.

“You’ve got to remain nimble and flexible – conditions change, new information presents itself…”

He says that merely re-emphasises the need for forward planning and a clearly articulated program.

“I think we’ve already started that process… we’ve massively increased our ambition for the Lot 14 site,” he said of the Government’s planned innovation hub on the old Royal Adelaide Hospital site.

“There’s massive interest in investing in that site… that’s a massive contrast with the previous government, who after a decade… still didn’t have a plan.”

Marshall is a firm advocate of cabinet government – but he says that cabinet won’t be changing in his second year in office.

He says he rules out a ministerial reshuffle in 2019 – a determination that will rankle with some sections of his – historically – notoriously fractured party.

There is already frustration within the conservative wing that there is only one genuine Right-winger – Transport Minister Stephan Knoll – in the 14-strong cabinet, with mainstays Rob Lucas and David Ridgway considered more factionally-neutral.

The Christopher Pyne-influenced moderate faction has flexed its muscle in the state party, with the vast majority of ministerial appointments hailing from the Left – and set to stay there in the medium term.

“We’re reviewing on a continuing basis,” Marshall insists of his government’s performance, noting recent “minor changes” to the machinery of government in the public service on the recommendations of former New Zealand trade minister Steven Joyce.

“We do run a very different type of government to the previous one,” Marshall reflects.

“Cabinet meets twice per week [and] while ministers have carriage of their areas of responsibility within the cabinet, we’re requiring all cabinet ministers to be involved in all decision-making.”

He said that was reflected in the recent controversy over fledgling Water Minister David Speirs, who was lambasted by Murray Darling Basin Royal Commissioner Bret Walker for “capitulating” to the Commonwealth and upstream states on a new deal on environmental flows.

At the time, Marshall was quick to claim “100 per cent” cabinet responsibility, a point he now re-emphasises.

“It was a direction that went to cabinet – it had been circulated across every department,” he said.

“It still takes people some getting their mind around what a cabinet government is, compared to what existed previously – it’s quite a different proposition.”

While the first year of Marshall’s Government has seen the likes of Corey Wingard, Rachel Sanderson, Dan Van Holst Pellekaan, Speirs and even his deputy Vickie Chapman come under public pressure, the Premier says he has fostered a culture of collective effort.

“If a minister’s got a complex issue in their area some would think ‘that’s great, pressure off me’ [but] we don’t leave ministers hung out to dry,” he said.

“If there are issues we work on how to collectively solve the problem.”

He said that was emphasised by the “three key themes” he imposed on his team from the get-go – humility, delivery and accountability.

“We do need to have better reporting lines but taking responsibility is critical and we do that across the entire cabinet,” he said.

As to whether his commitment to his current cabinet line-up will foster tensions among the next generation, he says: “I think we’ve got a very harmonious and respectful party room at the moment.”

He notes a “changing of the guard” with 11 new MPs among the 25-strong lower house team.

“Those new MPs I think are an extremely bright group with an incredibly bright future in front of them [but] at the moment they’re all making very significant inroads into understanding their new electorates and their new role,” he said.

It’s a clear contrast from his predecessor as Premier, with Jay Weatherill regularly revamping his frontbench, often annually.

Labor leader Peter Malinauskas won’t rule out a frontbench reshuffle in the medium term, saying: “I’m grateful for the fact that we’ve got a backbench with talent on it and that includes the two people recently elected to parliament [Andrea Michaels and Joe Szakacs, elected at last month’s by-elections].”

However, he added, “I’m very happy with the frontbench- I think they’re doing a good job.”

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