SYDNEY – Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews will replace David Johnston as defense minister as he announced his first changes to the Cabinet. Josh Frydenberg becomes assistant treasurer, replacing Arthur Sinodinos, who stepped down last week.
Health Minister Peter Dutton will take over the immigration and border security portfolio from Scott Morrison, who becomes minister for social services, Abbott told reporters in Canberra on Saturday. Assistant Education Minister Sussan Ley was named minister for health and sport, becoming the second woman in the Cabinet after Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.
The Liberal-National coalition is seeking to arrest a decline in opinion poll ratings after introducing spending cuts in May, amid voter perceptions of broken promises.
Abbott, who came to power 15 months ago pledging to end the “debt and deficit disaster” of the former government, has faced Senate opposition to key legislation, while falling commodity prices have cut tax revenue and thwarted efforts to erase a 48.5 billion Australian dollar ($39 billion) budget deficit.
“This government’s whole mission is to build a strong and prosperous economy, for a safe and secure Australia,” Abbott said Saturday. “This new ministry that I announce today will help to make that absolutely true in the coming year.”
Johnston exits the defense portfolio after last month criticizing Adelaide-based shipbuilder ASC, a candidate to construct a new fleet of submarines.
Pointing to schedule delays and an overrun of at least AU$350 million ($285 million)on an AU$8 billion ($6.5 billion) project to construct three destroyers, Johnston said he wouldn’t trust ASC to “build a canoe.”
Labor Senate leader Penny Wong called on Johnston to resign, saying his “position is untenable.” Johnston later apologized for the remarks.
Sinodinos resigned as assistant treasurer on Friday after having stepped aside in March as an independent commission probing corruption in New South Wales state looked into dealings at a company he previously led. The commission has yet to release its findings on the matter.
Frydenberg, who replaces Sinodinos, has been serving as parliamentary secretary to the prime minister.
Morrison said Dec. 3. that the government’s policies have resulted in no boats arriving in Australia in all but one month of this year. Almost 1,200 asylum seekers died at sea under the previous Labor government, he said.
The government has been less successful in other areas.
It has had to ditch policies that have proved unpopular with voters, including a plan to charge Australians AU$7 ($5.70) to visit a doctor. Abbott has also said he’ll rework his paid parental leave plan amid criticism it favors higher income earners and will not do enough to reduce child-care costs.