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Australian Defense Minister to Step Aside After Vote

Australian Defense Minister John Faulkner
Australian Defense Minister John Faulkner at an Asia-Pacific security forum in Singapore on. Photographer: Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Images

Australian Defense Minister John Faulkner will quit his job in the ministry after the next national election, which Prime Minister Julia Gillard plans to call by year’s end.

Faulkner is the second Cabinet member to step aside since former leader Kevin Rudd was deposed June 24 to make way for Gillard as head of the governing Australian Labor Party. Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner announced on the day of Rudd’s downfall he wouldn’t contest the next election.

Gillard, 48, boosted Labor to an election-winning lead in opinion polls held within two days of her taking over. Rudd’s support tumbled after he shelved plans to combat climate change and announced a 40 percent tax on resource profits at companies including BHP Billiton Ltd., the world’s biggest miner.

“I wanted to announce this decision before an election was called,” Faulkner, 56, who will stand for his Senate position in this year’s election, told reporters in Canberra. “Julia Gillard has my absolute support. We are well placed to win a second term.”

The first Nielsen opinion poll after Gillard replaced Rudd gave her a 10 percentage point lead over Tony Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition, at 55 percent to 45 percent, according to the telephone survey of 1,000 voters published June 26 in the Sydney Morning Herald. That poll also gave her a 21-point advantage over Abbott, 52, as preferred prime minister.

Staying in Parliament

“John has done a great job as defense minister and enjoys respect from all those who work with him,” Gillard told reporters in Darwin. “I thank him for acceding to my pleas and agreeing to stay in the parliament.”

Faulkner became a senator in 1989 and first served as a minister from 1993 to 1996 under then-Prime Minister Paul Keating. He said he spoke this morning with Labor’s four living ex-prime ministers Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke, Keating and Rudd.

“John Faulkner is a man of honor and integrity,” Treasurer Wayne Swan said in an e-mailed statement. “He is a pillar of our movement and a great friend and I know his contribution will continue in other ways.”

Half of Australia’s 76 upper house Senate positions are contested at each general election and senators serve six-year terms. Faulkner’s seat as one of the senators from the state of New South Wales is one of the positions to be contested this year.

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