Australia gets first female defence minister as new PM Turnbull reshuffles Cabinet

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announcing his new federal Cabinet during a media conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on Sept 20, 2015. Australia got its fifth prime minister in as many years on Monday after the ruling L
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announcing his new federal Cabinet during a media conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on Sept 20, 2015. Australia got its fifth prime minister in as many years on Monday after the ruling Liberal Party voted to replace Abbott with former investment banker Malcolm Turnbull, following months of infighting and crumbling voter support.PHOTO: REUTERS
An archived image of Senator Marise Payne during Senate question time at Parliament House Canberra, Australia, on July 7, 2015. New Australian Prime Minister Turnbull on September 20, 2015 made sweeping cabinet changes including appointing Sen Payne
An archived image of Senator Marise Payne during Senate question time at Parliament House Canberra, Australia, on July 7, 2015. New Australian Prime Minister Turnbull on September 20, 2015 made sweeping cabinet changes including appointing Sen Payne as Australia's first female defence minister. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Australian Defence Minister Kevin Andrews speaking at a press conference in Melbourne, Australia, on September 20, 2015. Long-serving minister and Tony Abbott backer Kevin Andrews has been removed from the defence portfolio. New Prime Minister Turnbu
Australian Defence Minister Kevin Andrews speaking at a press conference in Melbourne, Australia, on September 20, 2015. Long-serving minister and Tony Abbott backer Kevin Andrews has been removed from the defence portfolio. New Prime Minister Turnbull announced his new ministry, which is expected to be sworn in on Sept 21PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

CANBERRA (Reuters/AFP/Bloomberg) - New Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull appointed Australia's first female defence minister on Sunday as he filled more key posts with women in a "very extensive" Cabinet reshuffle, days after ousting predecessor Tony Abbott in a party coup.

Defence Minister Kevin Andrews confirmed on Sunday that he had lost his portfolio, saying he was disappointed his offer to work with the new Liberal leader had been refused. His job has gone to Senator Maris Payne, who becomes Australia's first female defence minister.

Mr Andrews, who joined Parliament in 1991, held the defence portfolio for less than a year and had been talked about as one of the most high-profile losers in Mr Turnbull's new Cabinet on Sunday.

Mr Turnbull on Sunday appointed Mr Scott Morrison as treasurer, handing the conservative lawmaker the top economic job in his new Cabinet in an effort to mend party divisions following the ouster of former prime minister Tony Abbott.

Mr Morrison won both praise and condemnation as immigration minister for his ruthlessly efficient implementation of Australia's policy of turning back boatloads of asylum seekers arriving from Asia. Most recently, Mr Morrison had been tasked with steering through difficult welfare reforms as social services minister.

Along with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Trade Minister Andrew Robb, who retained their portfolios, Mr Morrison, 47, was seen as one of the few stars of the Abbott government.

Mr Morrison takes on his new role as Australia's US$1.5 trillion economy grapples with the end of a powerful mining boom and as top trading partner China adjusts to slower, more consumer-focused growth.

After being dumped as treasurer, Mr Joe Hockey will leave Parliament after almost 20 years as a lawmaker. "I advised the Prime Minister that I did not wish to continue as a minister in the government and that it is my intention to resign from the House of Representatives," Mr Hockey, 50, said in a statement on Sunday.

The gaffe-prone Mr Hockey, who failed to push ahead with major structural reforms that business leaders say are needed to foster growth, presided over unemployment that reached a 12-year high and a plunge in business investment. Having promised to end the "age of entitlement" before he took office in 2013, Mr Hockey struggled to rein in the budget deficit by controlling spending.

The sweeping changes also saw some key Abbott allies from the party's right wing left out of the Cabinet in favour of younger and more moderate candidates.

Some Abbott allies stepped aside or refused portfolios, with the resignation of Mr Hockey from Parliament the biggest surprise.

Four other members of Mr Abbott's Cabinet were dumped. Besides Mr Andrews, they were Employment Minister Eric Abetz, Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane and Small Business Minister Bruce Billson.  

Trade Minister Andrew Robb, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann and Environment Minister Greg Hunt were among those to retain their roles.

Other changes in the much-anticipated Cabinet reshuffle were the appointment of former education minister Christopher Pyne as industry, innovation and science minister.

Sen Payne, who had held the human services portfolio, was given the defence ministry.

Ms Michaela Cash was appointed Minister for Employment and Women, while Ms Kelly O'Dwyer assumed the assistant treasurer and small business portfolios.

Ms Susan Ley remained as health and sports minister.

Mr Arthur Sinodinos, who served as chief of staff to former premier John Howard, became cabinet secretary as Mr Turnbull stressed the need for consultative leadership in contrast to Mr Abbott's centralised decision-making processes.

Turnbull supporter Attorney-General George Brandis was appointed Senate leader but lost the arts portfolio to another backer of the new premier, Mr Mitch Fifield, who was also given communications.

Other ministerial appointments include: Mr Simon Birmingham as education minister; Mr Christian Porter as social services minister and Mr Josh Frydenberg as resources, energy and northern Australia minister.

"Today, I'm announcing a 21st-century government and a ministry for the future," Mr Turnbull told reporters in Canberra."Very big changes to meet very big challenges to help all of us seize very big opportunities."

The new Cabinet is expected to be sworn in on Monday.

Mr Turnbull's Liberal Party and its junior coalition partner the National Party won a landslide election in 2013 under Mr Abbott, promising stability, economic reform and to stop the arrivals by boat of asylum seekers. Mr Abbott was ditched on Monday after months of destabilising infighting and a series of gaffes and perceived policy missteps.

The removal of Mr Tony Abbott and loyalists such as Mr Andrews is seen as a setback for Japan's bid to win a US$35 billion (S$49 billion) programme to build stealth submarines for Australia.

Mr Abbott was ditched last Monday after months of destabilising infighting and a series of gaffes and perceived policy missteps.

Veteran political commentator Malcolm Mackerras said the new Cabinet should give the government a boost as it heads into elections expected next year.

"I think Turnbull will lead them to a second victory," he said.

Mr Turnbull, 60, a multimillionaire former barrister and banker who backs climate change action and supports same-sex marriage, has so far pledged to keep other policies forged under Abbott.

They include a climate change policy that critics argue is not tough enough in addressing global warming, and a decision to hold a plebiscite on gay marriage instead of allowing for possible changes through a parliamentary vote.

Mr Turnbull has made economic policy a key tenet of his new administration, promising to speak honestly about the country's challenges as it transitions away from mining-led growth following an unprecedented resources investment boom.

Ms Bishop was re-elected as deputy party leader defeating Mr Andrews 70-30.

The new prime minister was keen to boost the number of women in his Cabinet, in contrast to Mr Abbott, who was accused of holding sexist and outdated views.

Mr Abbott was also slammed for not having a separate science minister position in his cabinet, instead of combining it with the Industry Ministry under Ian Macfarlane, but it is not known if Mr Turnbull will reintroduce a standalone portfolio.

The announcement comes as Liberal candidate Andrew Hastie won a Western Australia by-election on Saturday, with some crediting the comfortable victory to Mr Turnbull's ascension.

With more than 60 per cent of ballots counted, the former special forces soldier was forecast to have secured the seat with a 6 per cent swing against his party, compared to fears of a 10 per cent move before Mr Abbott was dumped.

Mr Turnbull has also polled well nationally, with a Galaxy survey released on Friday showed the government's standing higher at 51 per cent compared with the opposition Labor's 49 per cent, the first time it has been in a winning position since May 2014.

Mr Turnbull, an outspoken republican, will also dump knights and dames from the country's honours list reintroduced under his predecessor Abbott, a local media report said on Sunday.

London-born monarchist Mr Abbott was criticised as living in a "time warp" when he brought back the titles in March last year.

He faced a further outcry from MPs from all sides, including some within his own conservative Liberal Party, after he controversially decided in January to award Britain's Prince Philip a knighthood.

Mr Turnbull entered public life by spearheading a push for Australia to turn itself into a republic, chairing the Australian Republican Movement during a 1999 referendum on the monarchy. The movement was comfortably defeated.

But Mr Turnbull is expected to be supported when he brings the proposal to remove the royal titles to the Cabinet for approval, Sydney's Sunday Telegraph reported.

The move to knight the husband of Queen Elizabeth II was seen as one of the catalysts that sparked the first leadership challenge against 57-year-old Mr Abbott in February.