It was all so much simpler back in the days when I did my school assignment on the Gorton Ministry. The most complex part then was having separate ministers for Army, Navy and Air Force. Even the Minister for Munitions was long gone by then.
All matters relating to communications were handled by the Postmaster-General. We had (and indeed, still do) an Attorney-General, although never a Surgeon-General - and alas, no Witchfinder-General.
We had a Minister for External Affairs, presumably to set apart from those affairs conducted in parliamentary offices or the Kurrajong Hotel. We had the descendent of a white British explorer as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. (Torres Strait? What's that?)
We even had a Minister for Education.
This week, Julia Gillard has drafted a ministry of mindnumbing complexity.
We have our simple, straightforward ministries, like "Trade", "Defence", and "Foreign Affairs" (ages now since they were deemed "External" rather than "Foreign"), but consider some of these appointments:
Jenny Macklin is "Minister for Housing, Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs";
Tony Burke is "Minister for Sustainable Population, Communities, Environment and Water";
Mark Butler is "Minister for Mental Health and Ageing", not to be confused with Nicola Roxon, who is "Minister for Health and Ageing";
Stephen Conroy is the Postmaster-General of our generation, to whit: "Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity";
Mark Arbib is "Minister for Indigenous Development and Economic Development, Minister for Sport, Minister for Social Housing and Homelessness";
and... well the full list as announced on Saturday is here.
My observation? It's too bloody complicated. All that's missing is a Parliamentary Secretary Assisting The Prime Minister On Programmatic Specificity, and Julia made him Foreign Minister.
After three years of the baffling complexity of the Kevin Rudd era, Australia is crying out for some cut-through simplicity to make the difficulties of reformist government clearer to understand. The portfolio allocations of the (technically, Second) Gillard Ministry are both obfuscating and seem to be attempting at the appearance of governing by placing buzzwords in departmental titles.
Digital Economy? Is that counting the money on your fingers? Sustainable Population? Is that China's policy of one-child-per-family?
There are some confusing contradictions as well. Greg Combet becomes "Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency" while Martin Ferguson continues to rule that inseparable holy trinity of "Resources, Energy and Tourism". There's some seriously disturbing signs in that clash of departments.
And education? There's no Minister for Education. As such. Peter Garrett does "Schools, Early Childhood and Youth", while it seems that Kim Carr's "Innovation, Industry, Science and Research" and Chris Evans' "Jobs, Skills and Workplace Relations" are education-related portfolios. Jacinta Collins is listed as Parliamentary Secretary for "Education, Employment and Workplace Relations". I wonder who she will report to?
Are we still Building the Education Revolution, Julia?
Stephen Smith said on Saturday, after being shifted sideways, that there shouldn't be "a crack of light" between the foreign minister and the PM. I fear that there will be whole constellations on show in the cracks between some of these areas of responsibility.