Premier Colin Barnett has dumped veteran MPs Rob Johnson and Liz Constable from his front bench as he seeks to place his first-term minority Government on an election footing.
Mr Johnson, who has polarised the public and his colleagues as Police Minister, has been ousted in favour of newcomer Liza Harvey, who will also take on his Road Safety Portfolio.
Dr Constable, the veteran Independent who will retire at the next election, has also been removed from Cabinet. Her key education portfolio will go to Upper House Liberal number cruncher and former school teacher Peter Collier.
Upper House MP and lawyer Michael Mischin has, as foreshadowed, been brought into Cabinet as Attorney-General.
Murray-Wellington MLA Murray Cowper has also won a promotion – he will take Terry Redman’s Corrective Services portfolio and Mr Collier’s Training and Workforce Development portfolios.
Troy Buswell will take the reins of Treasury while keeping Transport and Emergency Services. He will hand Housing to Mr Redman.
“This is the Cabinet that the Liberal-National Government will take to the next election,” Mr Barnett said. “It puts a new face on the Cabinet, and it shows clearly our intention as a Government, should we be re-elected.”
The announcement of Mr Johnson’s ousting comes as he was travelling today to Melbourne for conference of state police ministers.
Mr Barnett acknowledged Mr Johnson was unhappy with his demotion but it was “a matter of judgment”.
“Rob is not pleased, and I don’t think anyone who loses a position in Cabinet is pleased about that,” Mr Barnett said.
“Rob had done a good job, but it was simply time for a change, time to move on.”
Asked if the reshuffle was acknowledgment the Government had begun to “stall” in the eyes of the public, Mr Barnett said: “I think there’s an element of that. Certainly there have been some issues. I think the public at large were looking to the Government to put into Cabinet the people who were up for re-election, and the people who would lead a second-term Liberal-National Government.”
Mr Barnett said Mr Johnson had been a “champion” for frontline police, citing mandatory sentencing for assaults on public officers, and his proudest achievement was the redirection of 100 per cent of traffic fines to be spent on road safety initiatives.
Chatter in Liberal circles for some time has been that Mr Johnson would only accept a demotion from the ministry if he was made Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, a position currently held by the Nationals’ Grant Woodhams, who is retiring at the March 2013 poll.
Mr Barnett acknowledged Mr Johnson wanted to be Speaker but insisted no deal had been done.
“If we win, I can’t say who would be Speaker … there is no guarantee to anyone,” he said.
Mr Barnett has taken another leap of faith on Mr Buswell.
“He has had a few issues in his career. Those, I’ve got to say, were primarily before he became a minister, during his time in Opposition,” Mr Barnett said.
Mr Buswell’s infamous bra-snapping and chair-sniffing incidents happened before he came to Government, but he was forced to resign as Treasurer in the wake of the revelation of his affair with Fremantle MP Adele Carles. His record of speeding fines while a backbencher in 2010 came to light when he was Transport Minister in early 2011, drawing a public rebuke from the Premier.
“I think Troy, as a Treasurer, has an instinctive feel for the economy,” Mr Barnett said. “I think we lose nothing in terms of Troy coming back into that position.”
Mr Barnett said he had discussed with Dr Constable her departure from Cabinet for about six months, but it was his decision to move her on.
He said Dr Constable had been an “outstanding Education Minister”, highlighting her carriage of the Government’s independent public schools policy.
“I think Liz has some misgivings (about leaving Cabinet). Liz is very close to me, we get on well and I think Liz accepts the decision.”
While the retiring Dr Constable has been ousted, Mining and Fisheries Minister Norman Moore, who will also depart politics at the next election, remains in his position and as leader of the Liberals in the Upper House.
Mr Barnett also appointed three new Parliamentary Secretaries: Jandakot MLA Joe Francis to Commerce Minister Simon O’Brien, Ocean Reef MLA Albert Jacob to Communities and Youth Minister Robyn McSweeney and Mike Nahan to Energy Minister Mr Collier.
The new Cabinet will be sworn in at Government House tomorrow, with the first meeting of the new Cabinet to be held on Monday.
Mr Johnson has been a figure of ridicule for the duration of the Barnett Government's time in office.
He has also been widely criticised for his comments on the decriminalisation of cannabis and his handling of police officer Ryan Marron's funding claims.
Liberal Party power brokers also believe that Mr Johnson’s seat of Hillarys, which is held by a margin of 11 per cent, could be occupied more productively by a younger, more dynamic force.