Australian Attorney General Nicola Roxon and minister Chris Evans have resigned from cabinet, three days after Prime Minister Julia Gillard set a federal vote as the Labor government trails the opposition in opinion polls.
The country’s first federal female attorney general is stepping down from that post and as minister for emergency management, Gillard said today at a press conference in Canberra. Evans will quit as minister for tertiary education, skills, science and research, and as senate leader, Gillard said.
While Roxon and Evans, who are both in Gillard’s Labor party, said they are leaving for family reasons, the timing gives the impression they’re abandoning the government, Bruce Hawker, a former Labor strategist, said in an interview on Sky News television. The party has trailed the opposition Liberal-National coalition in opinion polls for more than 20 months.
Parliament will be dissolved on Aug. 12 for a monthlong campaign before the federal elections on Sept. 14, Gillard said on Jan. 30, breaking with convention that usually sees leaders give only a few weeks notice. The opposition coalition, led by Tony Abbott of the Liberal Party, would get 51 percent of the vote if the election were held today, while Labor would receive 49 percent, according to a Newspoll survey published in the Australian newspaper on Jan. 15. The poll redistributes preferences expressed for minor parties to the Labor and coalition, based on the results of the previous election.
Evans said he is confident Labor will prevail. “The prime minister is the outstanding politician of our generation,” he said. Evans will be replaced in his cabinet position by immigration minister Chris Bowen.
Roxon said she will continue to work for Labor and also expressed her belief that the party will win the election. “I admire the work the prime minister has done on behalf of Australian families and am extremely grateful for her understanding of the needs of mine,” she said. Roxon will be replaced in both her roles by Mark Dreyfus, parliament secretary for climate change.
Dreyfus and Bowen will be sworn in on Feb. 4, Gillard said. Other changes in the cabinet include the appointment of Brendan O’Connor as minister for immigration and citizenship, replacing Bowen.
Roxon highlighted her role in defending the government’s policy to require cigarettes be sold in uniform packages, with the brand name relegated to the bottom quarter of the package on a drab brown background. Australia was the first country to introduce such a restriction.
“Their departure leaves big shoes to fill but it paves the way for fresh talent, new ideas and new energy during the days of governing in 2013,” Gillard said.
Dreyfus, a former Melbourne barrister, will step down as cabinet secretary as he takes the attorney general’s post. Jason Clare, who is also home affairs and justice minister, will replace Dreyfus as cabinet secretary.