Australia gets its third Transport Minister since December

February 26, 2018
Australia transport Minister
New Deputy PM and Transport Minister Michael McCormack (centre) with nationals colleagues. Image: ABC screengrab.

Australia has its third Transport Minister in as many months after new Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack was sworn in on Monday.

The changes began in December when well-regarded Incumbent Darren Chester was dumped as Infrastructure and Transport Minister as part of a politically-inspired reshuffle that saw Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce take over the portfolio.

Chester was appointed in February, 2016, after the retirement of then Nationals leader Warren Truss, and the decision to axe him shocked some MPs and Canberra watchers.

But Joyce barely had time to get his feet under the desk before he was engulfed in a scandal centred on a relationship with media advisor Vikki Campion, with whom he is now living and expecting a baby.

It was the start of an ongoing public relations train wreck that included allegations of sexual harassment, strongly denied by Joyce, as well as questions about free accommodation and jobs provided for Campion.

The fallout led to Joyce stepping down from the party leadership and McCormack being elected as his replacement  on Monday morning.

McCormack was  Veterans Affairs and Defence Personnel Minister prior to the Joyce debacle and has been the member for Riverina area of New South Wales since 2010.

According to his website, he was raised on family farms and was educated at Saint Michael’s Regional and Trinity Senior High Schools in Wagga Wagga.

He began his career as a cadet journalist on The Daily Advertiser newspaper in Wagga Wagga in 1981 and became editor in 1991, at the time the youngest person editing a daily newspaper in Australasia.

This period featured what appears to have been one of his few missteps, a controversial article about gays that prompted several complaints to the Australian Press Council and for which he apologised.

A military history buff, he says he is most proud of the part he played in saving Wagga Wagga’s RAAF base from closure in 1997.

He then co-founded a media and publishing small business that he operated in partnership until elected to parliament.

He was appointed parliamentary secretary to Minister for Finance in 2013 and Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister in 2015 and worked with then Nationals’ leader Warren Truss on the administration of regional development programs.

A reshuffle in 2016 saw him emerge as Assistant Minister for Defence and he was later given the small business portfolio.

In this latter position, he oversaw a bungled attempt to move Australia’s census online.

It is unclear to what extent McCormack is interested in civil aviation but his electorate is an operational centre for Australia’s biggest independent regional carrier, Regional Express, and home for the Australian Airline Pilot Academy.