CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Prime Minister Julia Gillard emphasized loyalty over experience in new Cabinet selections named Monday after a bungled leadership challenge laid bare intra-government turmoil further damaging her party’s image months before an election.
Five ministers resigned or were sacked from their executive jobs for promoting a challenge by Gillard’s predecessor Kevin Rudd that failed when he decided against running on the ballot within the ruling Labor Party.
Gillard called the leadership mess “appalling” in remarks Monday to reporters.
“It was an unseemly display,” she said. “Today as a government we can be united and with a sense of purpose,” she added.
Most of the lawmakers whom Gillard promoted were known loyalists in the longstanding rivalry between Gillard and Rudd.
The Resources and Energy Ministry, crucial to Australia’s mining-oriented economy, was given to Special Minister of State Gary Gray, a former gas company executive from resource-rich Western Australia state. The position had been filled to acclaim by Rudd supporter Martin Ferguson since the Labor government was first elected under Rudd’s leadership in 2007.
Transport Minister Anthony Albanese stayed, even though he had been tipped to be deputy prime minister if Rudd regained the leadership. Reports have said ministers urged Albanese not to resign because he was too important to the government.
Gillard promoted Albanese by giving him the portfolios Regional Development and Local Government. Those ministries had been held by Simon Crean, whom Gillard dumped for publicly calling for a leadership ballot.
Gillard said she was confident of Albanese’s loyalty.
“I have always been able to work with Minister Albanese well,” she said. “He’s been very central to the life of this government and I believe he will serve very well and with a very strong sense of loyalty into the future.”
Australian National University political scientist Michael McKinley said the promotions were clearly not made on merit.
“If they were any good, they would have been in the Cabinet already,” he said.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr, who has denied media reports that he had been prepared to back a Rudd challenge, remained in his post.
Dumping Carr would have been a high-profile embarrassment for Australia since he is due to meet U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden at the White House later Monday.
The Australian government’s internal turmoil played out in in the United States a year ago when Rudd quit as foreign minister while in Washington to challenge Gillard in a leadership showdown. He was trounced in that ballot by 91 votes to 31.
After last week’s fiasco, Rudd said he would not seek the Labor Party leadership again. Party leadership ballots are often seen as a solution to abysmal public polling, which point to a sound Labor Party defeat at the national elections on Sept. 14.
The new Cabinet is Australia’s sixth in three years. Gillard expects the reshuffle will be the last before the elections.