Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard was left with little choice but to rethink her government line up after facing down a challenge from the man she ousted as leader. The question now is whether the revamp she has unveiled, including the promotion of a former state premier to the prestigious post of foreign minister, will be enough to lift the ruling Labor Party’s sagging poll numbers.
Gillard handily beat her former Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd in a leadership vote after he had resigned to challenge her. Rudd, seen as relatively popular in the country but not among his colleagues, was ousted in a leadership coup in 2010. His thrashing in Monday’s contest – by 71 votes to 31 – has left him and a key ally in the political wilderness.
In announcing the reshuffle, Gillard named Bob Carr as foreign minister, replacing Rudd, who has been relegated to the backbenches. Carr is a highly respected figure in Australian politics, and his appointment will add a touch of glamor to an otherwise drab team of politicians.
Carr retired as New South Wales premier in 2005, and his ten years at the helm, which included the highly successful 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, made him the longest serving premier in the state’s history. But his appointment as foreign minister was something of a surprise, with analysts having expected Stephen Smith to make a return to the job.
Soon after the appointment was announced, speculation surfaced that Smith had attempted to block Carr, prompting Gillard to remark: “The decisions I've made about my team are about merit, about the strongest possible team.”
Carr for his part added: “…in the end, when the distinctive voice of the prime minister rouses you from your slumber and says, ‘Will you be foreign minister of Australia?’ I couldn't have found it in me to have said no.”
But Gillard showed she wasn’t necessarily in a forgiving mood when she made her cabinet picks. Gone was Rudd supporter Robert McClelland, who was also demoted to the backbenches. Smith, who preceded Rudd in foreign affairs and had been tipped to return, will remain as defense minister.
However, the purge was limited, with other Rudd supporters Martin Ferguson, Anthony Albanese and Chris Bowen keeping their ministries, in resources, transport and immigration, respectively.
Among other changes that Gillard is expected to take into the next election, due in about 12 months, are: Kate Lundy as Minister for Sport and Multicultural Affairs, David Bradbury as Assistant Treasurer and taking up the newly created position of Minister Assisting for Deregulation, and Jason Clare, who will take on the additional portfolio of Minister for Defense Materiel. Attorney General Nicola Roxon, meanwhile, will take on the additional portfolio of Emergency Management, while Environment Minister Tony Burke will take on the additional role of Vice President of the Executive Council.