The Prime Minister's cabinet reshuffle that shows merit is a furphy

The cabinet reshuffle that shows merit is a furphy

Take a look in Canberra right now and you will something exposed – clearer than day – that we rarely get to see in such close quarters. It is something that has long been denied and resented and yet it is laid bare in Australia’s most powerful congregation of politicians.

We have been told, on countless occasions, with huff, exasperation and even derision, that ‘merit’ is the only determining criteria for promotions in parliament and yet the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull‘s newly reshuffled cabinet makes abundantly clear that isn’t true. Not even close.

The new cabinet reveals merit is a total furphy. And worse, it shows that the other widely derided instrument that couldn’t possibly be used to increase the representation of women in politics – quotas – are, in actual fact, alive and well. But they’re not being used to instal otherwise overlooked potential or underrepresented groups into positions of power.

Quotas have propelled several untested, objectively un-meritorious, newcomers to the top of the political tree on the basis of their alignment – not their skills.  Competent women have once again been relegated to ‘knocking on the door’ of Cabinet while their male counterparts have been promoted.

As Fairfax Media’s National Affairs editor Mark Kenny puts it: “In the race between the merit principle and sectional politics, the former is often cited, but the latter more often observed.”

The fact the seasoned and competent Nationals MP Darren Chester has been ousted from Cabinet to make way for Nationals representatives aligned with different states, is hard to overlook.

Merit had nothing to do with Chester being side-lined – and nor does it have anything to do with the promotions of David Littleproud or John McVeigh. The moves are explained by quotas for Nationals, which is infuriating to accept while also being told that women couldn’t possibly rely on quotas to get anywhere.

On the weekend Peter van Onselen tweeted about the maddening hypocrisy.

The fact that women remain woefully underrepresented in Australian politics in the year 2017 compounds the ignominy.

If there is one positive thing to emerge from this reshuffle it is the fact it provides unequivocal proof of the myth of merit, and that quotas are in effect. Yet no one is asking if the newcomers can sleep at night, knowing their promotions might not have materialised purely from their superior expertise.

Is it too much to hope that 2018 might be the year women in politics – across the spectrum – rally together to rubbish the hypocrisy? The fact the new Minister for Women is a supporter of targets and boosting women in politics is a good start.

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