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Gillard's guys and girls

Tim Lester analyses the major cabinet reshuffle announced yesterday for the Gillard government.

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The PM's spruikers would have you look on the positive side. Julia Gillard has promoted a bunch of bright ministers who are, above all, good political salespeople. They will not just do their jobs well, but will get the message out.

But it's been a reshuffle from the back foot, where the effort to get the sandbags in place against Kevin Rudd are all too obvious. Once again, as with so much around this government these days, this thing was much about Kevin.

Those men who were central in elevating Gillard to the prime ministership, Bill Shorten and Mark Arbib, are getting their full rewards. The vital cabinet job of workplace relations for one; a ministry (assistant treasurer) that carries the keys to all sorts of places for the other (who also retains his fun sport portfolio). The quid pro quo is that they redouble their efforts to keep their leader safe.

Bill Shorten is about to be lobbied hard and loud by Australia's retail brokers.

Bill Shorten - one of the big winners out of Julia Gillard's Cabinet reshuffle. Photo: Peter Braig

In its execution, the reshuffle contained botches. Rather surprisingly, the woman who toppled Rudd could not remove from the cabinet the relatively soft target of Robert McClelland. He stays in a new, unfortunately named position of minister for emergency management (plus housing and homelessness). But he'll remember the slap, not the survival.

The PM's office denies that McClelland threatened to resign his seat. Or that Gillard tried to get Peter Garrett out of cabinet. No lower house minister had to threaten anything - Gillard knew the limits of her power in a hung parliament.

But Kim Carr, a senator who could not force a byelection, could be kicked off the top shelf with impunity. At one stage Carr, seen as a supporter who'd drifted away, was offered only defence materiel. Gillard then relented - probably after a few phone calls from Carr backers - and added manufacturing.

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With disgruntled players pushing back, how grateful Gillard must have been that Nick Sherry had apparently wanted to go to the backbench, and Joe Ludwig had asked not to be manager of government business in the Senate any more. The first gave a ''peg'' for the reshuffle; the second enabled Arbib to get an extra job as well as his new portfolio.

If this reshuffle is much about Rudd, it is also much about Shorten. Industrial relations will be a defining issue of 2012 for both sides. Shorten has two tasks: to oversee the Fair Work Act review and to persuade people that Tony Abbott is some sort of IR ideologue who will restore WorkChoices.

The importance of the second is obvious. But the first challenge will be vital to Shorten's future well beyond Gillard's time. The government is under huge pressure from employers and unions for changes to its IR legislation. How Shorten, the former union heavy who has moved easily in the business world, handles these conflicting demands will test his mettle in politics like never before. Both sides will be watching his ability to juggle very carefully.

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