Australia’s new Defence Minister is being touted as a potential stayer in the role who breaks with the tradition of putting “twilight politicians” in one of the country’s most important portfolios.
NSW senator Marise Payne, 51, was elevated from her comparatively background role on numerous committees and the outer-ministry portfolio for human services to take on the multi-billion dollar defence department as part of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s new look ministry.
“Instead of getting someone in the twilight of their parliamentary career as a terminal posting, it’s been given to someone with a considerable parliamentary career still ahead of her, and that’ll provide continuity,” Australian Defence Association spokesman Neil James told the Huffington Post Australia.
On Sunday outgoing Defence Minister Kevin Andrews said his sacking threatened the stability of the armed forces.
But analysts and defence observers -- citing Payne's long interest in the field and her parliamentary service -- aren’t so sure.
Payne has sat on joint and standing Defence and Foreign affairs committees since she entered parliament in 1997, and since 2013 Payne has served in the outer ministry of the Abbott government as the minister for Human Services.
Prior to the election she served in a number of shadow ministries.
“She has a good reputation as a minister in her junior portfolio, so we have to have a bit of optimism that she will carry it forward,” James said.
“What you’re getting in effect it someone with an interest in the issues, who has a reasonable background experience in them and has a future ahead of her.”
As defence minister Payne will over the coming months deal with a number of high priority issues, including but not limited to delivery of the government’s Defence White Paper, the department’s First Principles review, a decision on the country’s next fleet of submarines and the current military action in Syria.
ANU Defence expert emeritus Professor Paul Dibb said successive governments had tended to appoint defence ministers for relatively short periods of time.
“It is notoriously tough and difficult and it’s easy for one to put one’s foot in it, as we saw with David Johnston,” said Dibb.
Johnston was Defence minister from late 2013 to late 2014 and lost his job a month after saying he didn’t trust the Australian Submarine Corporation to “build a canoe”.
“That was ill advised,” Dibb said.
“The portfolio is full of sensitivities with regard to the American alliance and also with regards to the pressures on any minister deciding to send troops into harm’s way.”
Professor Dibb said it had been rare in the past 30 years for a defence minister to go on to better things, citing the rare case of outgoing US ambassador Kim Beazley -- a former defence minister in the Hawke government who eventually became a finance minister and deputy prime minister -- as the stand out.
“Successive governments of both persuasions have tended to appoint these short term appointments to office,” he said.
“It takes them several months to settle into the portfolio and learn the thwarting number of acronyms they need to get across, settle into military relations, the defence budget and the complexities of military equipment.
The ADA said Ms Payne could be Defence minister for the next five years, and both raised and dismissed as “inevitable” criticism on talk back radio she was only given the role because her gender.
“That’s ridiculous and it’s only being said by people who have no knowledge of defence issues over the last 10 years -- because she does have longstanding interest, she is well known for it,” James said.
He also said continuity in the role as important, and cited Payne’s prospective future career in parliament.
“If they win the next election and she stays in the portfolio it will considerably be in the nation’s interest,” he said.
“This is actually an inspired choice.”