Australian PM Axes Rival's Supporter From Ministry

By Salon Staff

Published March 2, 2012 3:18AM (EST)

SYDNEY (AP) — After surviving a bitter leadership challenge from her predecessor, Prime Minister Julia Gillard axed one of her rival's supporters from the ministry on Friday in a Cabinet reshuffle that capped a chaotic week in Australian politics.

Gillard demoted Emergency Management Minister Robert McClelland, a supporter of Kevin Rudd, who resigned as foreign minister last week and then attempted to oust Gillard in an internal Labor Party vote. Gillard had deposed Rudd as prime minister two years ago in an internal party coup.

Gillard easily defeated Rudd on Monday and has spent the past week trying to figure out a way to reunite her fractured party and Cabinet. At a press conference Friday in the capital, Canberra, Gillard insisted the drama-riddled power challenge had not played a role in the Cabinet reshuffling, which Rudd's resignation made necessary.

Asked whether McClelland's support of Rudd had affected her decision to drop him from the ministry, Gillard replied, "The decisions I've made about my team are about merit, about the strongest possible team."

McClelland was expected to make a statement about his political future later Friday.

In a surprise move, Gillard appointed former New South Wales state premier Bob Carr as foreign minister. Many political observers had expected that Defense Minister Stephen Smith, who held the foreign ministry post before Rudd, would be given the coveted job.

Carr, who retired from politics in 2005, said he initially wrestled with whether to return to public service.

"But 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," Carr said.

Gillard is lagging in opinion polls, and Rudd and his supporters had said their center-left party will get trounced by the conservative opposition if she continues to lead in elections scheduled for next year. Many Labor lawmakers, however, were unhappy with Rudd's performance as prime minister before his 2010 ouster and continue to support Gillard.

After his defeat, Rudd said he accepted the result and will not challenge Gillard again.

Salon Staff

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