Resignation prompts Australian reshuffle

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The Independent Online

The Australian Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock, has been appointed Attorney General in a cabinet reshuffle that the Prime Minister says could be the last before he calls an election late next year.

Mr Ruddock, who as Immigration Minister for nearly eight years drafted controversial laws which cracked down on illegal migrants and asylum-seekers, will now oversee legal challenges to his legislation by rights groups.

The reshuffle was prompted by the surprise resignation of the Communications Minister, Richard Alston, and has resulted in a slew of changes which the Prime Minister, John Howard, insisted would strengthen the government.

"These changes will continue the process of renewal and regeneration," he told reporters. "They will reinforce the government's commitment to its goals for Australia of national security, economic strength and social stability."

But some analysts dismissed the significance of the reshuffle ahead of an election which must be called by early 2005. "It just sounds like a normal game of musical chairs," said James Jupp, director of the Centre for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs at the Australian National University. He added that ministers would need a few months in their new roles before Mr Howard, enjoying 61 per cent approval ratings, would call anelection.

Mr Ruddock's current post will be taken by Amanda Vanstone, also considered a hardliner on the issue, while Daryl Williams, the current Attorney General, has been given the communications portfolio, information technology, and the arts. Tony Abbott will replace Kay Patterson as the Minister for Health and Ageing, while Ms Patterson will replace Amanda Vanstone as Minister for Family and Community Services.

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