Page 10 - BOL May 21 Edition
P. 10

Why the defence

       portfolio could make

       or break Peter Dutton’s

       political career

                       Defence is always one of the Australian government’s busiest — and
                       most powerful — portfolios. Now, as Peter Dutton takes the helm, this
                                  is no exception, and he will have much work to do.

       Challenges abound, both within Australia and in the region.  could be defence minister is 417 days – less than his colleagues
       Tensions continue to rise in the Indo-Pacific, and speculation  Linda Reynolds and Marise Payne, but more than Christopher
       persists about potential conflict with China over  Taiwan.  Pyne and Kevin Andrews.
       There are also warnings the impacts of climate change could
       “overwhelm” the defence force.                         Despite the existential risk of political longevity, it seems Dutton
                                                              was exceptionally keen to take on his new role. The main thrust
       In addition, defence, often a portfolio that gets only sporadic  of the argument for this change was that Dutton is a greater
       attention from the public, is front and centre of much political  political force and would bring extensive ministerial experience
       debate at the moment. From bushfire assistance and the  to the role, having carved out a formidable reputation at home
       COVID-19 pandemic response, to the Brereton Report and  affairs.
       twerking  at ship  launches,  defence  is never  far  from
       the news. As such, Dutton faces a series of major                Love him or loathe him, Dutton is a political presence
       risks as he takes on the portfolio – but also                       that can’t be ignored. This has the potential to
       opportunities.                                    “                   be a major source of strength for the minister
                                                                               and an opportunity for defence. Dutton
       In terms of political  risk, the role  of   Dutton is a political        brings considerable strategic weight
       defence minister seems like a death   presence that can’t be              and political gravitas inside cabinet, the
       knell for a parliamentary career. Defence                                 parliament and with the media, but to
       is one of the largest, most difficult and   ignored. This has the          many segments of the community he
       complex portfolios in government.     potential to be a major              remains a controversial and divisive
                                              source of strength for              figure.
       Few, if any, defence ministers go       the minister and an
       onto  more  senior  roles  in  cabinet  or                                Such a spotlight carries as many risks as
       leadership of their party. Only two of the   opportunity for             it does opportunities. The key challenge
       past 14 defence ministers have served in        defence.                for Dutton will be how he goes about
       the role for three years or more: Robert Hill                         harnessing this power to advance the national
       and Stephen Smith. Eight of the 14 couldn’t                        interest and Australia’s security.
       even make two years in the role. It seems every new
       defence minister should be worried about their tenure, in   Despite being in the job only a few weeks, Dutton has made
       cabinet and the parliament.                            his presence felt immediately by denying Labor Senator Kristina
                                                              Keneally the use of a government aircraft and overturning
       If the Morrison government is returned at the next federal  the  chief  of  defence  force’s recommendation  to revoke  the
       election, Dutton has the opportunity to become one of the  meritorious unit citation for special forces soldiers.
       longest-serving defence ministers in decades. But this could
       prove elusive.                                         These two actions have stamped Dutton’s authority in the
                                                              role both in party-political terms and in his authority over the
       The next election must occur by May 21 2022. If the Morrison  ADF. But they carry risk. The challenge for the new minister is
       government  falls  at  that  hurdle,  the  maximum  time  Dutton  threading the needle between demonstrating his strength
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