After five years in one of the most scrutinised and gruelling portfolios in government, WA’s Health Minister Roger Cook is moving on.
Mr Cook has been the Premier’s right-hand man throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
So much so that, after the March state election, when he announced a fresh cabinet, Mark McGowan said he could not remove Mr Cook from health because it would be too risky during the pandemic, after he had done such a stellar job with his portfolio.
But here we are, seven weeks out from the state’s border reopening and on the brink of an uncertain new chapter for WA, with a new minister for the health sector.
It is difficult to see how the move does not represent a demotion for Mr Cook.
While he remains as Deputy Premier, Mr Cook swapped the very high-profile health portfolio — which controls a huge chunk of the state budget — for tourism.
He also retains state development, jobs and trade, tourism, commerce and science.
Mr McGowan argued tourism would be a very important role for Mr Cook in 2022 as WA prepared to “reconnect” with the world.
In reality, the two portfolios are simply nowhere near being in the same league.
Views split over Cook change
“This is a clear demotion,” Opposition Leader Mia Davies said.
“There are red flags right through the health system. The Premier had no choice but to reshuffle.”
Ms Davies was referring to ambulance ramping, cancelled elective surgeries, code yellows and blacks, and low staff morale that have gone on over the past couple of years.
However, Australian Medical Association WA president Mark Duncan-Smith pointed out that the state of the health system could not be blamed on a single person.
“It doesn’t matter how hard someone fights in a cabinet environment, if the rest of Cabinet isn’t willing to spend the money in health,” he said.
“I blame the whole of the McGowan Labor government.”
Political commentator Peter Kennedy did not view Mr Cook’s new portfolios as a demotion.
In fact, he said there was still plenty of scope for Mr Cook to one day become party leader.
“Mr Cook will be expected to deliver in the state development portfolio, it is a very important portfolio,” he said.
The Premier said Mr Cook’s move out of health did not reflect poor performance.
“Over the last two years with COVID, we have had [only] one person acquire COVID in Western Australia and pass away,” Mr McGowan said.
“It has been an extraordinary achievement that Roger Cook can take a lot of pride in achieving.”
Amber-Jade Sanderson heads winners and losers
There were some clear winners and losers in Friday’s reshuffle.
Mr Cook’s replacement, Amber-Jade Sanderson, fell firmly in the winners’ category.
It was another step up the ladder for the third-term MP, who has also been described as potential future party leader material.
Ms Sanderson clearly has the Premier’s confidence, having been given such an important role in helping to guide the state through the next stage of pandemic management ahead of WA entering life without borders on February 5.
A few others who stepped up in the ranks were Reece Whitby (environment and climate action), Tony Buti (Aboriginal affairs, and racing and gaming), John Carey (homelessness) and Don Punch (small business).
All entered into Cabinet this year and have seemingly been rewarded for their efforts so far.
Other ministers came out of the reshuffle having suffered clear downgrades.
The most obvious was Stephen Dawson, who was stripped of Aboriginal affairs, despite recently passing new heritage laws that the Premier had praised in parliament, and also lost mental health.
Mr Dawson lost the environment portfolio in the last reshuffle, and has now been left with emergency services, innovation and ICT, medical research and volunteering.
Premier McGowan kept his role as Treasurer because, as he explained to journalists on Friday, he likes it that way.