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Australia’s Gillard reshuffles cabinet ahead of poll

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 February, 2013, 4:08pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 February, 2013, 4:19pm
 

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Saturday denied that her government was in chaos, after the resignation of two of her most senior ministers prompted a cabinet reshuffle ahead of a national election.

Saturday’s announcement that the two ministers had quit came only three days after the Labor leader said elections would be held in September, an unusual step in Australia where polls are usually only called a few weeks in advance.

Gillard said Attorney General Nicola Roxon, the first woman in the job and a staunch supporter of the prime minister, and Senate leader Chris Evans, who has at times been acting prime minister, were leaving the cabinet immediately.

But she denied that the move had thrown her coalition government into chaos.

“Why on earth would anybody say that?” Gillard said.

“Number one, I’ve named the election date, giving people more stability and certainty than they’ve ever had before,” she told reporters in Canberra.

“Number two, I’m here today making what is a very long-planned announcement, having had the opportunity to discuss with both Chris and Nicola their views about their futures during the course of last year.”

Gillard said she had known for a year that Evans, who is Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research, and Roxon did not want to stand for re-election and she had waited for the best time to announce this.

“This is the right time to announce this change moving as we are into the parliamentary week,” Gillard said.

The reshuffle means former senior barrister Mark Dreyfus will become the next attorney general and current Immigration Minister Chris Bowen will take on Evans’ portfolio.

Gillard said Bowen had wanted a new challenge from the demanding immigration role, set to be a key election issue as Australia struggles to stem a record influx of boatpeople seeking asylum, which will now fall to Brendan O’Connor.

Mike Kelly, a former Australian Defence Force member, will become minister for defence materiel.

Gillard, whom opinion polls suggest will lose the upcoming election to conservative opposition leader Tony Abbott, said her new team was the one she intended to take to the election.

 

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