PRIME MINISTER John Howard has demoted Amanda Vanstone, the minister responsible for overseeing sweeping changes in Australian higher education since the coalition government came to power 18 months ago.
In his first major frontbench changes, Mr Howard has moved Senator Vanstone from her job as employment and education minister to be justice minister in the outer cabinet. Her replacement is David Kemp, an ex-academic and experienced higher education reformer.
Mr Howard reshuffled his cabinet in the wake of a travel expenses scandal that embroiled government and opposition parties over the past fortnight. Three cabinet ministers resigned after allegations of unsubstantiated travel allowance claims.
Senator Vanstone, although not involved in the scandal, has been dogged by a series of setbacks and unpopularity resulting from her confrontational style.
As employment minister she has presided over a static but high unemployment rate, while most economic indicators have improved.
In higher education, Senator Vanstone ushered in higher fees for students, allowed universities to charge upfront full fees for local students who miss out on a government-funded place, and reduced the government allocation of funds to universities. Her reform package has been consistently attacked by vice chancellors, unions, public intellectuals and student groups. Senator Vanstone is a lawyer and former shadow justice spokesman.