Bernie Finn MP is Shadow Assistant Minister for Autism. There is no (Assistant) Minister for Autism in the Victorian Government, nor is there a (Shadow) Minister for Depression, Spina Bifida, Neurosis, Cerebral Palsy, etc.

The Victorian Labor Government has a Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers and a Minister for Mental Health. The Liberal Opposition has a Shadow Minister for Carers and Disability and a Shadow Minister for Mental Health. Why wouldn't autism already be covered by those?

How normal is it to have a ministry for a specific disability/mental illness? Which other Governments around the world have similar ministries?


3 Answers 3


I feel like you misunderstand the role of shadow cabinet. A shadow minister for issue X is just a member of the opposition that scrutinises the government's policies on X. They have no executive power, aren't usually paid an extra salary (compared to a so called 'back bench' opposition MP) and there is no guarantee they will establish or lead a dedicated government department once their party assumes power.

In practical terms, having a shadow minister for X just means that the opposition party in question think X deserves more attention beyond being subsumed in more general policy areas, or they have a member whose experience on the issue they want to specially highlight. The current shadow cabinet of the Parliament of Victoria also has a Shadow Minister for Youth Justice, a Shadow Minister for Bushfire Recovery, a Shadow Minister for [Horse] Racing, ...


Of course, this depends on what you call a "specific disability". Autism is known as a spectrum with a wide range of different characteristics. Many would not consider it a "disability" at all...

In the UK, within the Department of Health, there is currently a minister for "Minister of State for Mental Health, Suicide Prevention and Patient Safety". If autism can be considered a specific disability, then perhaps "mental ill-health" can also be considered as such. If so the UK has a Junior Minister with such specific responsibility.

There is also a "Minister of State for Disabled People, Work and Health" within the Department of Work and Pensions.

It's not unusual for a Junior Minister to have specfic responsibilty for one aspect of a departmental brief, especially if there is a legislative programme or specific spending around an area. It is also not unusual for there to be different departments that work with one group of people. A (fictional but memorable) example is in the Harry Potter books, where there is a "Werewolf support services" (as part of the Beings Division) and a "Werewolf capture unit" (as part of the Beast Divsion).

I don't have the google-fu to find any other examples of a "Minster for Autism" (but that is partly due to the controversy that Bernie Finn has gotten into with posting abelist memes) Such a specific brief is rare, but it may indicate that the opposition have a program of planned legislation on autism (and therefore would need a minister to guide this) or that Bernie Finn had a prior interest in autism, and asked this to be a named part of his brief, in order to raise awareness in Victoria.

  • See the update.
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Nov 22, 2020 at 9:27
  • I suspect your last paragraph is the true answer. He has a child with autism, seemingly making this a self-serving office. By focusing on autism, they're ignoring other issues that could be addressed.
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Nov 22, 2020 at 22:06

It depends what you mean by "normal".

I live in Germany, and we have a minister for agriculture, despite fact that this might as well be covered by the minister of the interior or the labour minister (after all agriculture happens inside the country and is a lot of work). The minister for agriculture is nowhere mentioned in the constitution (unlike e.g. the defense secretary or the minister for finance), it is just that it was decided at some point that agriculture is a big enough topic to require the resources of its own government department.

So it seems normal (not just in Germany) that a new minister post is created when the task seems big enough. It is also not unusual that suggestions for new minister posts are sometimes met with puzzlement and disapproval (e.g. when it was created, many people in Germany thought having a ministry for the environment was an oddity). It does seem a bit unusual that somebody thinks that autism is a big enough problem to warrant its own minister (but then extent and effects of that particular disability are notoriously underrated, so may they just know something we don't), but that would still make it nothing worse than an odd example for a legitimate principle.

There are other, somewhat unsavoury reasons to create new minster posts, e.g. to reward a particularly loyal party members, or, in coalition governments, to have enough available posts for an amicable split (I am not sure if this would apply to a shadow cabinet, since as a German I am not quite familiar with that concept).

  • "While the practice of parliamentary shadow cabinets or frontbenches is not widespread in Germany, party leaders have often formed boards of experts and advisors ("teams of experts", or Kompetenzteam, in CDU/CSU and SPD parlance; alternate "top team", or Spitzenteam, in Bündnis '90/Die Grünen parlance)" - Wikipedia
    – Rick Smith
    Commented Nov 22, 2020 at 11:40
  • 1
    "when the task seems big enough" like the UK introducing a Women's minister in 1997. It seems to me that having the ministry is a PR decision in many cases. The work almost certainly would still have been done under another department previously, the administration that creates the ministry simply feels that it would be well received.
    – Jontia
    Commented Nov 22, 2020 at 14:19
  • @RickSmith, I wasn't sure if the term "shadow cabinet" meant anything more definite than "people who really would like to be minister". I admit that we have a lot of those. Commented Nov 22, 2020 at 17:24

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