SYDNEY (Reuters) - Two more ministers in Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s cabinet said on Saturday they will not contest elections due in May, adding to a flurry of high-profile resignations as opinion polls suggest the center-right government faces a heavy defeat.
Morrison will need to retain all the parliamentary seats held by his coalition government, but his chances are weakened by a wave of incumbent lawmakers in marginal seats set to retire.
Defence Minister Christopher Pyne and Defence Industry Minister Steven Ciobo both announced on Saturday morning that they would not stand in the coming election.
Senator 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 government be returned to power.
“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 news conference from Canberra.
“What has also changed today is we have elevated Senator Reynolds into the Cabinet, which means there will now be seven women in Cabinet.”
Morrison said it was important for 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.
The prime minister said he intended to fill any other vacancies after the next election.
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.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne, who replaced Julie Bishop, announced six new foreign diplomatic appointments on Saturday including High Commissioners to South Africa, Nigeria and New Zealand; and Consuls-General to Shenyang, China, and Bali, Indonesia. She also announced a new ambassador to Qatar.
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.
Additional reporting by Swati Pandey and Colin Packham; Editing by Tom Brown, Daniel Wallis & Kim Coghill