Mon, Dec 22, 2014 - Page 5 News List

Australia‘s Abbott reshuffles Cabinet as economy falters

Reuters, SYDNEY

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, battling a slide in public support, reshuffled his Cabinet yesterday, promoting the overseer of a tough immigration program and throwing out his gaffe-prone defense minister.

Abbott said the shake-up was for jobs and families, and stressed a focus on financial issues as he deals with the fallout of an unpopular belt-tightening budget.

“It is a sign that this government wants the economy to be front and center in the coming year,” he told reporters in Canberra.

Abbott is nearing the end of his first full year in office hobbled by missteps and a souring economy.

Faced with a collapse in commodity prices and an unruly upper house Senate, that has held Abbott’s first budget hostage since May, voters have abandoned his conservative government more quickly than any other in three decades.

The elevation of Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison to social services minister underscored the shift in priorities away from the secretive program of “turning back the boats” of thousands of asylum seekers that helped it win power a year ago.

That policy has been criticized by the UN, but Abbott lauded Morrison as “the master of difficult policy and administration” for almost entirely stemming the flow of boats over the past year.

“He is a very tough and competent political operator,” Abbott said of Morrison. “He’s also a very decent human being.”

Australian Defense Minister David Johnston lost his job in the reshuffle, which came a month after he embarrassed the government with comments critical of government-owned ship-builder ASC, saying he did not trust it to “build a canoe.”

The comment fueled expectations that most of the work in an A$40 billion ($US32.5 billion) submarine program would go offshore.

Reuters reported in September that Australia was leaning toward buying up to 12 off-the-shelf stealth submarines from Japan.

Morrison is to be replaced by Peter Dutton, a former police detective, in the new portfolio as minister for immigration and border protection. Johnston is to be replaced by Kevin Andrews.

Abbott also appointed a second woman, following criticism of a lack of female representation. Sussan Ley was promoted to minister for health and minister for sport, joining Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

“All of our appointments are on merit,” Abbott said when asked if two women was enough. “As time goes by and the number of women in the parliament increases, I’m confident that there will be more.”

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