Labor slams Anne Ruston for saying she has ‘no idea’ why she has new Pacific development role

Anne Ruston was sworn in on Sunday as part of Scott Morrison's new team. Picture: Twitter/Anne Ruston

CANBERRA, 30 AUGUST 2018 (ABC) – Labor has criticised Australia’s new assistant minister for International Development and the Pacific for saying she has “no idea” how she got the job.

Anne Ruston, who served as assistant minister for Agriculture and Water Resources in the Turnbull Government, took on the position previously held by Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells as part of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s ministerial reshuffle.

When asked how she got the position by the presenter of ABC Radio Adelaide’s Mornings programme, David Bevan, Anne Ruston replied:

“I am not quite sure … very exciting new challenge, but no idea at all.”

Opposition spokeswoman for foreign affairs Penny Wong said in a statement the comments “added insult” to the government’s decision not to include the Pacific portfolio in the cabinet.

“In five years in office, the Liberals have cut more than $11 billion (US$8 billion) from our Overseas Development Assistance budget before Morrison added insult to injury on Sunday by cutting the ministry from his front bench,” Wong said in a statement.

“Now his handpicked choice for the downgraded aid and the Pacific portfolio has made clear her own lack of interest in the region by declaring she has ‘no idea’ why she was chosen for the portfolio.”

Bal Kama, a writer on Pacific politics and PhD law candidate at the Australian National University (ANU), told the ABC’s Pacific Beat programme that while he thought Ruston’s comments were offhand and not indicative of her capability in the portfolio, it could add to a perception by some in the region that the new government is de-prioritising Pacific issues.

“The change of ministry from a full-time ministry to an assistant ministry could be seen by some as a demotion, as an indication of a lesser priority given to the Pacific-Australia relationship,” Kama told Pacific Beat.

Ruston has declined to comment.

It was announced this week the Prime Minister would not be attending next week’s Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru, opting instead to send new Foreign Minister Marise Payne.

It’s a move criticised by both Labor and  Kama.

“This move is a surprise by the new Prime Minister … also considering the Prime Minister has opted to go to Indonesia, that will be taken by the Pacific most likely as again, not prioritising the Pacific,” Kama said.

“One would hope that Prime Minister Morrison would make up in some way to the Pacific Islands leaders.” he said.

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