Embattled Australian PM prepares cabinet reshuffle

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia's embattled Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Saturday said she would announce a cabinet shake-up within days after losing four ministers who backed a failed Labor Party coup against her.

Resources Minister Martin Ferguson, Tertiary Education Minister Chris Bowen and Human Services Minister Kim Carr quit on Friday after backing a return of former leader Kevin Rudd to save the party from defeat in September polls.

Respected Labor elder and Arts Minister Simon Crean was sacked on Thursday after calling for the leadership challenge which Mr Rudd ultimately failed to contest, while parliamentary secretary Richard Marles has also quit his post.

Ms Gillard said the leadership question was "behind us" and there would be no difficulty in filling the three cabinet positions left by Mr Ferguson, Mr Bowen and Mr Crean.

"I will deal with the ministerial reshuffle in coming days," she told reporters. "I am very lucky to be supported by so many great ministers."

Labor figures have described recent days as an awful experience for the government, which is badly lagging behind the conservative opposition led by Mr Tony Abbott in opinion polls just six months from an election.

"It has been awful. No other way of describing it," Environment Minister Tony Burke said late on Friday.

Mr Gary Gray, the Special Minister of State, admitted that losing three ministers on one day was "tough" but they would be replaced.

"That will happen quickly and the government will continue governing on an agenda that will benefit all Australians," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Saturday. "And the government will be back on its feet on Monday."

Mr Rudd has pledged to never challenge for the leadership again, and has urged the government to "bring people in the tent".

"Ultimately, leaders and prime ministers will make these calls, but I think it's really important that we bind up the wounds," he said.

Ms Gillard said she would lead an inclusive campaign in the weeks leading up to the Sept 14 election.

"When the election campaign comes, I will be campaigning with every member of my team including Kevin Rudd," she said.

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