Canada v Australia – A Government For 2016

Late last year Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau announced the most diverse Cabinet in the history of the country, as well as the Commonwealth (of which Canada remains a part of) and quite possibly the world.

Trudeau delivered on his pre-election promise to build a ‘Canadian government for 2015’, with an equal amount of men and women represented as well as religious and ethnic diversity. He appointed ministers who had actual experience and expertise in their chosen field to advise him and represent the public’s interest.

To demonstrate the point, here are a few examples that immediately jump out as common sense.

Minister of National Defence – Harjit Sajjan
Former police officer who, upon joining Canada’s military, rose to the ranks of Lieutenant Colonel and served a tour in Bosnia and three tours in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Minister of Justice – Jody Wilson-Raybould
The first Indigenous person to be named Minister of Justice, previously a provincial Crown prosecutor in Canada, B.C. Treaty Commissioner and Regional Chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, practicing law since being called to the bar in 2000.

Minister of Health – Jane Philpott
Family physician known for promoting medical education in Africa, HIV/AIDS fundraising, refugee advocacy, and her work on the social determinants of health. Incredibly, the first doctor to be appointed to the position.

Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities – Carla Qualtrough
Visually impaired Paralympian who won bronze in the 88 and 92 Olympic games for Canada, and as a lawyer served as counsel to the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal and the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

So what does this amount to? In my opinion, experts in their field advising the government on a course of action which is in the best interests of the people. Seems simple and logical, a good way to run a country, some might say.

Australia and Canada both use the Westminster system as their parliamentary system. So, just for kicks, let’s take a look at the Cabinet of Australia, comparing positions like for like.

Minister for Justice – Michael Keenan
A property consultant with a real estate firm. Has a Masters in philosophy. No prior experience with Australia’s legal system that I can see.

Minister for Defence – Marise Payne
Ten points would’ve gone to Turnbull for appointing the first female to this role, however the full suite was lost when we realised that Marise Payne is perhaps more a career politician than someone experienced in defence. Up until the Abbot government she’d been Shadow Minister for Indigenous Development and Employment, Shadow Minister for COAG and Shadow Minister for Housing; and from 2013 became the Minister for Human Services until being appointed to her current role as Minister of Defence.

Minister for Sport, Health and Aged Care – Sussan Ley
Masters degrees in taxation and accounting, a commercial pilot’s license, experience training the tax department, farming and as a Minister for Education.

Minister for Indigenous Affair – Nigel Scullion
London-born and Canberra-raised Nigel Scullion’s occupation is listed as fisherman, which presents some form of ties to his appointment as Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in 2007. Six years later he became the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, though I can’t find any reference to work with Australia’s Indigenous communities prior to this or a great deal moving forward.

As a side note, last year West Australian Aboriginal MP Ken Wyatt was sworn into the Federal ministry as the Assistant Health Minister, becoming the first Indigenous Member of Parliament to reach the front bench. Quite embarrassing that it took 115 years of Australian Federal parliament to get there, but glad we did. And, unlike Sussan Ley (two above), who he reports to, he has a great deal of experience in the field.

The point of these observations isn’t to take a shot at the politicians personally but to ask the question of how we select our leaders. Who would you rather have leading our country – a Cabinet like that of Canada or the one Australia has created for ‘career ministers’? When you look at the multiple positions held by the likes of Barnaby Joyce, Peter Dutton and Christopher Pyne, you start to wonder if a cabinet reshuffle is designed to make sure all your mates have a job, whether or not they’re the best people for it.

Playing devil’s advocate, we’re well aware that the Ministers are generally just a face for their remits surrounded by advisors. And then there’s the fact that a certain amount of experience and persuasion is needed to make things happen in Canberra. However, I’d argue that these skills can be taught a lot easier than a lifetime of study, experience and expertise in the field you’re representing.