Gillard Replaces Departing Ministers to Steady Ship

Australia will swear in replacements for two exiting government ministers today as Prime Minister Julia Gillard tries to minimize disruption caused by twin resignations within a week of setting the date for an election.

Mark Dreyfus, parliament secretary for climate change, will become attorney general and minister for emergency management, replacing Nicola Roxon, who quit both posts for family reasons. Immigration Minister Chris Bowen will be sworn in as minister for tertiary education, skills, science and research to replace Chris Evans, who also cited family for his exit.

Gillard, whose minority Labor Party government has trailed the Liberal-National opposition coalition in opinion polls for more than 20 months, made public the resignations on Feb. 2, three days after announcing parliament will be dissolved Aug. 12 for a monthlong campaign before the election. The twin departures suggest instability in the Gillard government, said Tony Abbott, leader of the opposition coalition.

“It is going to be very important in the days and weeks ahead that there is a strong and stable government in Canberra and I regret to say that just at the moment, that doesn’t appear to be the case,” Abbott, also the Liberal Party leader, told reporters in Queensland state on Feb. 2.

Gillard’s early announcement of the Sept. 14 poll broke with convention that usually sees leaders give just a few weeks notice. Treasurer Wayne Swan defended the prime minister’s move in his weekly economic note yesterday.

“In an election year, the community loses out if hours of television and pages of newspapers are consumed by fevered speculation over the date of the election,” Swan said. “Announcing the election date gives business and individuals certainty and gives shape and order to the year.”

Newspoll Survey

Labor fell 5 percentage points to 44 percent on a two-party preferred basis, with Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition surging 5 points to 56 percent, according to a Newspoll survey published in the Australian newspaper today. The measure is the best gauge of which major party is likely to win the seats required to form a government.

While Evans, who also quit as senate leader, and Roxon both said they are leaving for family reasons, the timing gives the impression they’re abandoning the government, said Bruce Hawker, a former Labor strategist, in an interview on Sky News television.

Transport Minister Anthony Albanese said yesterday the resignations are understandable.

“Let’s get real, we have had a couple of people step down for family reasons,” Albanese said in an interview on ABC TV’s ‘Insiders’ program. “There is no suggestion that there is any reason other than personal ones.”

Rallying Support

“I’m looking to you to be out there in your communities explaining to them that this is the work of governing and we are not done yet,” Gillard said yesterday in a speech to rally support among Labor Party members in Canberra.

Brendan O’Connor will be sworn in as minister for immigration and citizenship, replacing Bowen. Jason Clare, home affairs and justice minister, will replace Dreyfus as cabinet secretary. The replacement for Evans as senate leader will be decided at a ballot of the Labor Party caucus today.

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