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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 January 2007, 05:42 GMT
Australian PM reshuffles Cabinet
Australian Prime Minister John Howard
Mr Howard has already had almost 11 years in office
Australian PM John Howard has announced a significant Cabinet reshuffle ahead of elections later this year.

The environment, immigration and workplace portfolios have all changed hands - and all three are thought to be key election issues.

Mr Howard faces an uphill task as his Liberal Party battles to win re-election for a historic fifth term.

The main opposition Labor Party is riding high in recent opinion polls, as is its new leader Kevin Rudd.

Water key issue

The Cabinet changes announced on Tuesday reflect many of the key issues facing Australian politics at the moment.

The country is currently suffering its worst drought on record, and both climate change and water management are seen as important issues for voters.

The new environment minister is Malcolm Turnbull - a former merchant banker, best known for his failed attempt to make Australia a republic in a 1999 referendum.

Newly-elected Labor Party leader Kevin Rudd (right) and deputy leader Julia Gillard
Mr Rudd (r) and his Labor Party are riding high in the polls
"There is no doubt issues relating to climate change and water are going to be important," Mr Howard told reporters, when announcing Mr Turnbull's appointment.

"I think it is an effective concentration of the firepower of the prominent people within the government."

Another controversial issue is immigration, and the current immigration minister, Amanda Vanstone, will be replaced by Kevin Andrews.

Ms Vanstone's department has been involved in a series of embarrassing mistakes in recent years, including the detention and erroneous deportation of Australian citizens.

Kevin Andrews' previous job, that of employment and workplace relations minister, will be taken over by Joe Hockey. His job is also seen as important in the run-up to the election, as changes in labour laws are likely to have a large impact on voters.

Other key figures, such as Treasurer Peter Costello, Finance Minister Nick Minchin and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer have kept their posts in the reshuffle.

Poll woes

After almost 11 years in power, Mr Howard is due to call an election at some point in the second half of this year.

A recent poll by The Australian newspaper showed that Labor is currently in line to win 55% of the vote, compared to 45% for the ruling coalition of Mr Howard's Liberal Party and the National Party.

Mr Howard's personal voter satisfaction level is 46%, while new Labor leader Kevin Rudd's is 56%, the poll found.

Analysts say Mr Howard has lost a lot of his popularity because of his decision to deploy troops in the US-led war in Iraq in 2003. Some 1,400 soldiers are still in the region.

More than 60% of voters polled by The Australian survey said they opposed the government's handling of the Iraq crisis, and 71% said the issue was important to how they would vote.


SEE ALSO
Australia ponders climate future
24 Dec 06 |  Science/Nature
Australia's Labor gets new leader
04 Dec 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Australia
17 Oct 06 |  Country profiles

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