Asia Pacific / Politics

Australian defense chief Christopher Pyne latest to quit as election looms

Reuters

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a new Cabinet member on Saturday after a wave of high-profile ministerial resignations added to opinion polls that suggest the center-right government faces heavy defeat at elections due in May.

Morrison will need to retain all the parliamentary seats held by his coalition government, but his chances are at risk from a wave of incumbent lawmakers in marginal seats set to retire.

Australia’s Defence Minister Christopher Pyne and Defence Industry Minister Steven Ciobo both announced on Saturday morning that they would not stand in elections due in May.

Sen. Linda Reynolds, Australia’s first female brigadier in the Army Reserve, was appointed the new Minister for Defence Industry.

Morrison said Reynolds would become Defence Minister should his coalition government be returned to power at the next election.

“We have two members of the Cabinet who have decided not to re-contest the next election. That’s true,” Morrison said in a televised press conference from Canberra.

“What has also changed today is we have elevated Sen. Reynolds into the Cabinet, which means there will now be seven women in Cabinet.” Morrison said it was important for Defence Minister Pyne, who was responsible for a $200 billion ($141.60 billion) build-up of Australia’s military capability, to retain his portfolio until the election.

“In Christopher Pyne’s portfolio, we are dealing with some quite sensitive issues,” he said, adding that for “the sake of continuity” it was “very wise and responsible” for Pyne to continue in that role through the election period.

The prime minister said he intended to fill any other vacancies after the next election if his coalition party was successful.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion announced his retirement last week after Human Services Minister Michael Keenan said he was stepping down. Minister for Jobs Kelly O’Dwyer also resigned, and former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said last month she would not stand for re-election.

A Newspoll for The Australian newspaper showed the opposition Labor party retained a lead of 53 percent to 47 percent over the Liberal-National government last month, unchanged from the poll in December.

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