Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has dumped Barnaby Joyce from the finance portfolio, replacing him with Andrew Robb.
Mr Abbott was forced to make the reshuffle just four months into his leadership after Senator Nick Minchin yesterday quit the frontbench and announced he would not contest the next election.
Announcing the changes, Mr Abbott said Senator Joyce had been a “first-class member” of the Coalition team.
“I think that really I’m very lucky to have Barnaby in the frontbench,” he said.
“I think this is a really excellent position for him.
“I want him to be right around Australia. I didn’t want him necessarily chained to a desk costing policies.”
Just yesterday Mr Abbott said Senator Joyce was doing an “outstanding job” in the finance portfolio.
Senator Joyce took up the finance position after Mr Abbott became leader last December, but the often outspoken Senator was seen by some as a risk to the Coalition’s economic credentials.
He will now be spokesman for regional development, infrastructure and water.
And Ian Macfarlane will take on energy and resources.
Senator Minchin’s resignation yesterday also ignited speculation that former leader Malcolm Turnbull would make a frontbench return.
But Mr Abbott says that is not on the cards for now.
“Should we win the election I would anticipate offering Malcolm a senior role,” he said.
“But given that the emissions trading legislation is still before the Parliament I thought it would be premature to bring Malcolm Turnbull back to the frontbench.”
There had been speculation Senator Joyce would be moved after criticisms of his performance in the finance portfolio following a series of gaffes.
In a speech to the National Press Club, the Nationals Senator confused millions with billions while discussing the country’s debt levels and once referred to “net gross public and private debt”.
He was also ridiculed by the Government for claiming that Australia could be forced to default on its debts.
And today Queensland Senator Ian Macdonald publicly urged Mr Abbott to consider using Senator Joyce in another portfolio.
Speaking just moments after Mr Abbott’s announcement, Senator Joyce accused some of his own colleagues of backgrounding the media against him.
But he said Mr Abbott did not tell him to go.
“It was an open and honest, frank discussion, which was completely cordial,” he said.
When asked if he was disappointed by the move he replied: “Not really”.
“It’s an increase in workload, to be perfectly truthful,” he added.
Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner was quick to seize on news of the reshuffle to attack Mr Abbott’s economic credibility.
“It took the resignation of a senior member of the Coalition due to personal circumstances to force Mr Abbott to remove Barnaby Joyce from the role,” he said in a statement.
“This demonstrates just how little Mr Abbott cares about the Australian economy by allowing Senator Joyce to retain one of the senior economic positions within the Coalition for more than four months.”
Senator Joyce will still represent the finance portfolio in the Senate.
Mr Robb last year served as the Coalition’s emissions trading spokesman before moving to the backbench because he was suffering from depression.
After Mr Abbott became leader last December Mr Robb took charge of the Coalition’s policy development committee.
Mr Robb says that after five months without a portfolio he is “well and ready to take such responsibilities”.
Mr Robb paid tribute to Senator Minichin and described Senator Joyce as a “significant and effective member of the Coalition”.
“I enjoy a strong working relationship with Barnaby and look forward to his leadership in the regional development, infrastructure and water portfolio,” he said.