Australian government ministers quit politics

CANBERRA (AP) - Two senior Australian government ministers announced on Saturday that they are quitting politics only days after beleaguered Prime Minister Julia Gillard said elections will be held in September.

Government leader in the Senate Chris Evans, the third most senior government minister, and Attorney General Nicola Roxon announced they have resigned from Cabinet.

Mr Evans, the minister for tertiary education, skills, science and research, said he will quit the Senate within months.

Ms Roxon will leave the Parliament at the next election.

Both said they were quitting politics for personal reasons and praised Ms Gillard's leadership.

"Like Chris, I believe we can win the next election. I believe that we will win the next election," Ms Roxon told reporters as she stood beside Mr Evans and Ms Gillard at a news conference at Parliament House.

Ms Gillard said she will swear in a new Cabinet on Monday before Parliament sits for the first time this year on Tuesday.

It will be the final reshuffle before the centre-left Labour Party government faces likely defeat at the next election to a conservative coalition led by Mr Tony Abbott.

Ms Gillard said she had known for months that neither minister wanted to remain in Parliament past the next election.

She praised the two for their contributions, and rejected journalists' suggestions that the timing of the resignations after the election date was set reflected a government in chaos.

"I've always had it in my mind that this was the time to announce new arrangements," she said.

Ms Gillard surprised Australians on Wednesday by announcing the Sept 14 election date. Australian governments traditionally give the opposition little more than a month's notice to keep a strategic advantage.

Her government narrowly scraped through the last elections in August 2010 to form a minority government with the support of independent legislators and a lawmaker from the minor Greens party.

Since then, every major opinion poll has shown the government lagging well behind the opposition. A glimmer of hope for the government is that polls show Ms Gillard is the more popular choice for national leader than her rival, Mr Abbott.

Since Ms Gillard set the election date, triggering what commentators have described as the longest election campaign in Australia history, her party has been tarnished by scandal.

Independent lawmaker Craig Thomson, who quit the Labour Party at Ms Gillard's insistence in April last year over longstanding allegations that he misused trade union funds in his previous career as a union official, was arrested by police on Thursday on fraud charges stemming from those allegations.

While Ms Gillard had sidelined Mr Thomson from the ruling party in the hope of reviving public confidence in her government, her opponents remind her that she had previously long stated her full confidence in the lawmaker.

A corruption inquiry in New South Wales, Australia's most populous state, has heard evidence daily this week of illegal profiteering from insider knowledge on coal mining applications involving senior members of the previous Labour state government, which suffered a crushing defeat at elections in 2011.

Federal ministers agree that evidence of corruption in the party's state branch is harming their chances of re-election at the federal elections.