Michaelia Cash: Malcolm Turnbull’s secret weapon is a woman on the rise

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash inside her Parliament House office. Photo: Andrew Meares Michaelia Cash and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speak to the media after the ABCC bill was passed. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Nanjing Night Net

Michaelia Cash during question time at Parliament House. Photo: Andrew Meares

Michaelia Cash’s staffers are standing sheepishly in the corner of her office, looking at their watches.

Their boss is due to meet with the Governor-General to get royal assent for the Australian Building and Construction Bill which passed Parliament the night before. But she’s high on victory, waxing lyrical about the benefits the bill.

The two young men are more resigned than perturbed. When Hurricane Michaelia is spinning there’s no stopping her.

You could forgive Cash for being exhausted on the last sitting day of the year. “You do end up doing 18 hour days quite easily seven days a week,” she says of her recent weeks negotiating to get the government’s double dissolution trigger bills passed through the Senate.

Instead she’s wide-eyed, ebullient, buzzing with a caffeinated energy that’s equal parts intoxicating and exhausting. With her trademark theatrical hand gestures and exaggerated pronunciation, she’s a lip reader’s dream.

“She’s a ball of energy,” Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm says.

“She’s always very upbeat, always got a positive outlook,” one frontbench colleague says.

“She works her arse off.”

A government source who has worked closely with her says: “She’s a superstar.”

Elected as a Senator for Western Australia in 2007, the former Freehills lawyer sits on the conservative side of the Liberal Party’s broad church. After becoming a Malcolm Turnbull supporter late in the piece, his victory saw her shoot into cabinet as Minister for Workplace Relations and Employment. Unlike some of her accident-prone colleagues, Cash has earned respect for notching up a set of legislative victories.

When the Turnbull government emerged from the July election with a shrunken majority in the House of Representatives and a bloated crossbench, the decision to go to a double dissolution trigger seemed a disaster. Many assumed the chances of passing the ABCC and Registered Organisations bills – both rejected twice by the previous Parliament – were as good as dead.

Did Cash?

“No absolutely not,” she says. “I knew what I needed to do.”

Besides her computer sits a plaque, a replica of the one that sat on Ronald Reagan’s desk throughout his presidency. “It can be done,” it reads.

Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher is another hero.

But while the Senator from Western Australia isn’t for turning, she is for negotiating.

Following the election, Cash flew around the country to meet with crossbenchers on their home turf to discuss what they needed to support the bills.

“That’s what you do when you’re negotiating – you show people the respect that is due to them,” she says.

“I never have an issue leaving the blue carpet [of the ministerial wing] ever. Ever! That’s my style; that’s my personality.”

Contrasting her approach to that of Tony Abbott and previous employment minister Eric Abetz, Leyonhjelm says: “There was a much more enthusiastic approach to negotiation.”

Cash gave a lot away to get the bills passed – from new community forums for the ABC and SBS boards to new “buy Australian” procurement requirements. The ABCC’s coercive powers have been softened and a two year transition period for existing contracts will slow its impact.

One conservative commentator described the final bill as an “appalling mishmash of inconsistent and unworkable provisions” that makes it all but worthless.

Cash insists she isn’t fazed by the bad reviews. “The reality is we don’t have the numbers in the Senate,” she says. She had to negotiate to get the job done.

The passage of the bills follows her previous success scrapping Labor’s Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal and passing new laws in support of Victorian Country Fire Authority volunteers.

Had Cash failed on the double dissolution bills, it would have been an embarrassing end to a difficult year for the Turnbull government. Now it enters 2017 with a sense of cautious optimism.

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This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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