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New Australian Leader Names Cabinet


Australia's Prime Minister-designate, Kevin Rudd, has named a woman as the country's deputy leader for the first time, and a former rock singer has been appointed environment minister. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports on Mr. Rudd's new cabinet.

Australians voted for change last Saturday after 11 years under Prime Minister John Howard, and the cabinet unveiled Thursday by Mr. Howard's successor, Kevin Rudd, promises just that.

There will be increased emphasis on the environment and the hot issue of climate change under the new Labor Party government. Peter Garrett, a singer with the popular Australian band "Midnight Oil" before entering politics, has been appointed environment minister.

Penny Wong, an ethnic Chinese immigrant from Malaysia, has been given the brand new portfolio of Minister for Climate Change and Water. One of her first jobs will be to negotiate Australia's signing of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, which Mr. Howard had refused to sign.

Ms. Wong is one of seven women in the cabinet. Julia Gillard has been appointed deputy Prime Minister - the first woman to achieve that position in Australia.

Mr. Rudd says the women have all been selected on merit alone.

"I'm proud of the fact that these women are in these positions, because they have worked their guts out, they are strong, talented individuals," he said.

If the country now has a celebrity for an environment minister, the man who will be representing Australia to the world still has to make a name for himself.

The new foreign minister is Stephen Smith, a lawyer from Western Australia, who like many top members of the incoming government is virtually unknown outside the country - and not terribly well known inside it, either.

Mr. Howard was a strong backer of U.S. President George Bush's war on terror, and sent troops to both Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Rudd promised to pull Australian troops out of Iraq. His new defense minister, Joel Fitzgibbon, will have the job of implementing that policy, while keeping military ties with the United States strong.

The defeated Liberal Party announced its own changes Thursday. The man who succeeds John Howard is former Defense Minister Brendan Nelson, who promises to keep pressure on the Rudd government.

"I say to the average Australian that I will be working very hard to be a very effective alternative government for Australia, and I am very confident that…we will have ourselves in a position to make sure we are in a winning position three years from now," he said.

Labor is expected to have a majority of more than 20 seats in the 150-member House of Representatives when the few remaining postal votes are counted. Mr. Rudd's team is due to be sworn into office on Monday.