Second Aussie Cabinet reshuffle ahead of polls

PM Turnbull says new 'dynamic' team combines youth, experience and enterprise

PERTH • Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday announced more than a dozen changes to his Cabinet, the second major reshuffle in the five months he has been leader and ahead of national elections expected later this year.

Mr Turnbull was forced into the Cabinet reshuffle by the resignation of one minister, the retirement of two longstanding senior ministers and the sacking of two others over their involvement in separate political scandals.

The new Cabinet line-up represents "a dynamic team which combines youth, new talent, experience, continuity, and a real sense of innovation and enterprise", Mr Turnbull said at a news conference in Sydney.

"Change offers opportunity... There comes a time when you need to transition from older leadership to newer leadership. Turnover, change, is good... It is a revitalised government and it is revitalised because of new blood coming in," he said.

Mr Turnbull's Liberal-National coalition is the front runner to win elections expected in October - his first poll as Liberal party leader and prime minister.

Mr Turnbull ousted Mr Tony Abbott in a leadership coup last September and is under pressure to unite his divided government.

A victory would give him a popular mandate and secure his position as party leader.

The retirement of deputy prime minister Warren Truss on Thursday saw Mr Turnbull inherit a National party political rival - a hard- right, climate change sceptic - as his deputy, an appointment that could block any revamp of an emissions trading scheme and give farmers a greater say in government policy.

Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce became Deputy Prime Minister when he was elected to lead the coalition's minor partner, the Nationals.

Mr Turnbull also appointed eight new ministers and boosted the number of women in his Cabinet from five to six, with the appointment of Ms Fiona Nash as regional development, regional communications and rural health minister.

The major change sees Trade Minister Andrew Robb, who led negotiations for landmark free trade agreements with China, Japan and South Korea and the multinational Trans-Pacific Partnership, become a special trade envoy.

He will be replaced as trade minister by Mr Steven Ciobo.

Australia is in the midst of several trade negotiations, including free trade deals with Singapore and India.

The coalition government won a landslide election in 2013, but then Prime Minister Abbott saw his ratings plunge in the wake of a hugely unpopular 2014 austerity budget.

Plummeting commodity prices have depleted the government's coffers - a major financial stumbling block for Mr Turnbull, whose rise was sparked partly by his image as a prudent financial manager based on his background in the private sector.

Australia in December forecast its that budget deficit would swell to A$37.4 billion (S$37 billion) in the year to June as falling prices for key resource exports open a gaping hole in tax revenue.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 14, 2016, with the headline 'Second Aussie Cabinet reshuffle ahead of polls'. Print Edition | Subscribe