When Paul Keating had the task of recasting his ministry after removing Bob Hawke from the prime ministership in 1991, he opted for minimal change and retained all the key Hawke loyalists in his cabinet. They were, he said, ”old dogs for a hard road”.

Julia Gillard took a different path after finally, and emphatically, seeing off the challenge of Kevin Rudd. Rather than call in the Rudd backers in her cabinet, one by one, and demand either a pledge of loyalty or their resignation, she put the onus on them to make the call.

Aside from Simon Crean, whom she sacked for bringing the issue to a head and backing a change to Rudd, two cabinet ministers, a member of the outer ministry and a parliamentary secretary walked, prompting more vacancies than there were old dogs to fill them.

The result is the selection of a cabinet for the campaign, where competent ministers in demanding portfolios suddenly have double the workload, suggesting this is a cabinet with an expiry date of September 14.

Mark Dreyfus has been a minister for less than two months and now, in addition to the key cabinet post of Attorney-General, becomes Minister of State and Minister for the Public Service – the two roles Gary Gray gives up to become Resources and Energy Minister.

He is capable, but is he that capable? The same can be asked of Craig Emerson, now the third Minister for Tertiary Education in less than three months. He keeps his old job as Minister for Trade and Competitiveness, with its onerous demands of overseas travel, and remains minister assisting Gillard on ”Asian Century Policy”.

Then there’s Anthony Albanese, who was wanted as Rudd’s deputy PM. He assumes regional development, yet retains his existing responsibilities – the infrastructure and transport portfolios and managing the Parliament.

The sustainability of these and other changes is one question. Whether Gillard understands the extent to which the government’s problems transcend the instability engineered by Rudd is another.

Gillard’s purpose on Monday was to draw a line under one of the most bizarre, self-indulgent and self-destructive weeks in Labor history and instil in the new team a determination ”to get up every day determined to do better that day for the Australian people than we have done the day before”.

The challenge, especially for the leader and the old dogs who bear the biggest load, is to do a lot better – on a road that is suddenly much, much harder.

The Age

Prime Minister Julia Gillard poses with her new-look cabinet yesterday. Picture: ALEX ELLINGHAUSEN

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