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Last Updated: Monday, 29 September, 2003, 09:33 GMT 10:33 UK
Australia announces major reshuffle
Philip Ruddock
Philip Ruddock is known for his tough stand on asylum seekers
Australia's Prime Minister John Howard has announced a major cabinet reshuffle.

Among several key changes, controversial immigration minister Philip Ruddock, known for his tough stand on asylum seekers, has been promoted to attorney general.

Mr Howard said the changes would "reinforce the government's commitment to its goals for Australia of national security, economic strength and social stability".

He said he did not anticipate any further reshuffles between now and the next election, which has to take place before the end of 2004.

The reshuffle was prompted by the surprise resignation of Communications Minister Richard Alston, who is said to have left because he wanted to spend more time with his family.

A total of 14 portfolios changed hands, but the most controversial change is Mr Ruddock's promotion to the post of attorney-general.

Mr Ruddock has been immigration minister for the past seven years.

I think it will make a strong government even stronger
Prime Minister John Howard
Since 2000, he has become internationally notorious for implementing a policy of locking up asylum seekers in remote desert detention centres until their cases are decided.

"I think he will be a very good attorney general and he will have a prominent role in the ongoing debate on national security," Mr Howard said.

Government critics disagreed.

"To have Mr Ruddock... who has incarcerated innocent people behind razor wire in conditions that would be unacceptable in most prisons in Australia, (moved) to chief law officer of the land is appalling," said Senator Bob Brown, leader of the Greens party.

Mr Ruddock's old job will be done by Amanda Vanstone, a long-time Howard loyalist, who moves from being family and community services minister.

The BBC's Red Harrison in Sydney says she is a forthright, outspoken woman who, when she was minister for health, managed to alienate thousands of the country's doctors.

Many of those doctors are now urging a national strike unless the public health system is overhauled.

But the new Health Minister, Tony Abbott, is renowned for his tough-minded attitude towards industrial action.

In other changes, current Attorney-General Darryl Williams will take over as communications minister, while current Health Minister Kay Patterson will replace Ms Vanstone as minister for family and community services.

Election preparation

Prime Minister Howard told reporters the reshuffle was aimed at further strengthening the government.

Despite the popularity of Mr Howard's government, he warned against complacency.

"Eight seats is all that stands between us and electoral oblivion," Mr Howard said, referring to the slim parliamentary majority held by his Liberal party and National Party allies.

The opposition Labor Party, currently languishing in the polls, said Mr Howard was forced into the changes because of the incompetence of the ministers concerned.

"Every minister who has been shifted has been exposed by Labor as incompetent and unable to manage his or her portfolio," said Labor leader Simon Crean.

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