SYDNEY – New Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd unveiled his Cabinet on Monday, bringing in a record number of women and switching the focus to the economy ahead of upcoming elections.
Rudd seized the leadership last Wednesday, three years after he was suddenly ousted by his center-left Labor Party.
With Labor trailing badly in the polls, the party dumped Julia Gillard and has seen an immediate bounce in popularity.
“I am delighted that in this Cabinet of ours we will have the largest number of women in any Cabinet in Australian history,” Rudd said.
Victorian Sen. Jacinta Collins enters the Cabinet as minister for mental health, Catherine King will be minister for regional Australia and Julie Collins takes the portfolios of housing, homeless and the status of women.
They join Finance Minister Penny Wong, Health Minister Tanya Plibersek and Families Minister Jenny Macklin in the 20-member Cabinet.
The number of female ministers rises from nine under Gillard to 11.
West Australian MP Melissa Parke was also appointed as the country’s first minister for international development, a non-Cabinet job.
Rudd said the appointments were made purely on merit, not gender, and pledged to boost the economy, but made no mention of an election date.
“The core task of this Australian government is to keep the economy strong,” he said.
Rudd pledged to work for a “stronger, fairer Australia . . . and never ever, ever allow the fair go to be thrown out the back door.”
The top jobs of foreign affairs, defense and the home ministry did not change hands.
New Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will take over the communications portfolio and responsibility for the rollout of the 35.9 billion Australian dollars ($32.8 billion) high-speed National Broadband Network. He keeps his transport and infrastructure portfolios.
Tony Burke was shifted from environment to immigration and multiculturalism.
Bill Shorten, who dumped Gillard and backed Rudd at the last minute during the leadership tussle, added school education to his workplace relations portfolio .
The Cabinet was due to be sworn in Monday afternoon and hold a first meeting later in the day.
Opinion polls suggest Labor has dramatically closed the gap on the conservative Liberal-led opposition.
A Galaxy poll published Sunday by News Limited put the Liberals ahead with 51 percent against 49 percent in a race between the two major parties.
The survey of 1,002 voters also revealed that 51 percent of those polled believe Rudd would make a better prime minister than opposition leader Tony Abbott (34 percent). Fifteen percent were uncommitted.
Rudd’s failure to fix a new election date after he last week ruled out Gillard’s choice of Sept. 14 has angered the opposition.
“It is incumbent on the prime minister to end the uncertainty and name the date,” Abbott said.
“I suspect that despite the advice he is getting he wants to keep this parliament going on and on and on.”