The Morrison miracle government and the Coalition chaos that preceded it has been accompanied by many ministerial departures, bruised, disappointed, sacked or just plain worn out from government service. They left gaps, but they have been filled. Only time will tell how greatly they will be missed, but the parliamentary talent pool on all sides is not endlessly deep so their departures will make some difference.
Their subsequent roles paint an informative picture of the enduring place of the political class in Australian life. The departed are far from unemployable or lacking in useful skills as is sometimes alleged. In fact, they are in high demand. Even if they weren't, they possess enormously influential networks to help them prosper in their future lives. There is no great hurry in almost all cases as the parliamentary and ministerial superannuation schemes are most generous.
The first round of Coalition retirees included those whose futures were decided by the chaos surrounding last August's leadership spill, which led to Scott Morrison replacing Malcolm Turnbull. Some departed quickly, while others announced that they would serve out their terms and then depart.
The first bunch of retirees were Turnbull himself, his deputy the foreign minister Julie Bishop, minister for defence Christopher Pyne, trade minister Steve Ciobo, minister for human services Michael Keenan, minister for industrial relations Kelly O'Dwyer, and minister for Indigenous affairs Senator Nigel Scullion.
The second round included those whose fate was sealed by the election and the subsequent selection by Morrison of his first ministry. Tony Abbott lost his seat and senators Arthur Sinodinos and Mitch Fifield accepted diplomatic posts later in the year and sit on the backbench.
Few of those who retire stay away from government circles entirely, but retirement jobs can generally be divided into those who take direct government employment and those who make their own way in the private sector. Much of the latter has some connection with government, even indirectly, and this leads to ethical questions regarding ministerial standards and post-political employment.
The first category is direct government employment. Such jobs are given by the person's own party but not always. The Rudd government notably made appointments of its political opponents, Brendan Nelson and Tim Fischer, to diplomatic positions. Admirable as that is in an age of excessive partisanship it is the clear exception rather than the rule. Don't expect former Labor leaders to be gifted appointments by the Morrison government.
It was common in the first three or four decades after Federation for former prime ministers to take government jobs as High Commissioner in London; so common that it was almost expected as a reward of office. Those who did so included Andrew Fisher and Stanley Melbourne Bruce.
There is nothing new about it but the pattern of former ministers holding the most senior diplomatic posts in London and Washington, among others, has become all pervasive. The trend has continued. The current Ambassador in Washington, former Coalition treasurer Joe Hockey, replaced former Labor defence minister and then opposition leader Kim Beazley, who is now Governor of Western Australia. The current High Commissioner in London, former Coalition Attorney-General George Brandis, replaced former Coalition foreign minister Alexander Downer. Previous High Commissioners to London included Labor luminaries Neal Blewett and Mike Rann.
That trend will now be continued. Sinodinos will become the next Australian Ambassador to the United States in Washington and Fifield will become the next Australian Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York. Don't be surprised if there are more such announcements in coming months as such "jobs for the boys" is fully accepted on both side of politics.
The second category is the private sector broadly defined. This can sometimes involve single full-time jobs, but a portfolio of part-time positions is common, including non-executive directorships, advisory jobs and university connections. Bishop and Pyne, former lawyers, are cases in point and it is notable how similar their post-retirement plans are in government-related activities.
Bishop has formed Julie Bishop and Partners with her former chief of staff, while Pyne has registered Pyne and Partners with his former chief of staff. Each of these operations look like lobbying and advocacy businesses. Bishop has also joined the board of the international private aid contractor Palladium, while Pyne is now one day a week with major defence consultancy firm EY.
Each of these positions breaches the spirit of ministerial guidelines for post-politics employment in the advocacy industry. Each should have waited the statutory 18 months before jumping on board private companies which clearly engage in business related to their former ministerial positions.
The third category is those who have truly retired from employment, at least for now. Keenan and O'Dwyer each have young families and the latter wants a larger family. Still it will be surprising if they don't take on some jobs in their home states as they stay close to family. It will be a pity if the explanation of "family reasons" for departures from politics becomes just a catch-all excuse for being fed up with the job and wishing to move on.
The dust has not yet completely settled. It may take until the end of the year for it to be clear what role former prime ministers Turnbull and Abbott will play in Australian life. Turnbull has already become an adviser to a global investment firm. Whatever their larger role turns out to be it will probably be significant, though if Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd are any guide, not necessarily central or very public.
John Warhurst is an Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the Australian National University