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Ferguson Quits Resource Ministry in Third Cabinet Departure

March 22 (Bloomberg) -- Australian Resources Minister Martin Ferguson resigned today in the third departure from Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s cabinet since she retained the Labor party leadership yesterday.

Ferguson told reporters he would have supported former prime minister Kevin Rudd had he stood against Gillard yesterday in a leadership ballot, and that quitting the cabinet was now the “honorable” thing to do. Ferguson said he will stand for his seat at the next election and serve a full term.

“The caucus has made the decision, I respect the decision,” he told reporters in Canberra. “It is therefore appropriate that the prime minister and the Labor party are given the best available opportunity to regain the Labor legacy of reform and embracing an approach to looking after all Australians and in doing so, seek to best position the party that I’ve been a member of for 35 years to win the next election.”

Gillard faces the challenge of rebuilding her cabinet following the resignations of Ferguson, Regional Development Minister Simon Crean, and Tertiary Education Minister Chris Bowen. Her minority Labor government trails the opposition Liberal-National coalition in polls before a Sept. 14 election.

Ferguson, 59, served as resources, tourism and energy minister since the election of the Labor government in 2007 and was a senior member of the cabinet. A former president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, he was elected to parliament in 1996 and was well regarded within the resource industry.

‘Outstanding Contribution’

“It is appropriate to acknowledge the outstanding contribution Martin Ferguson had made during his time as minister,” David Peever, Rio Tinto Group managing director Australia, said in a statement. The resource industry underpinning growth during a period of economic uncertainty “is in no small part due to the Minister’s efforts during his stewardship of such a vital area of the economy,” he said.

The Minerals Council of Australia said in a statement Ferguson was “an excellent minister who will be greatly missed by Australia’s mining sector.”

Ferguson, like fellow former ACTU president Crean, invoked the legacy of the Labor governments of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating in urging the Gillard administration to stay true to the party’s values.

“I will go to the backbench, give the government my absolute support and contribute to policy debate,” he said. “It was not an easy decision, it’s the honorable decision and I do not resile from it.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Heath in Sydney at mheath1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephanie Phang at sphang@bloomberg.net

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