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Australian PM mulls cabinet reshuffle

Update: February, 28/2012 - 12:18

SYDNEY – Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Tuesday refused to rule out punishing ministers who failed to back her in a bitter leadership ballot with Kevin Rudd as she mulls a cabinet reshuffle.

Gillard retained office Monday by crushing rival Rudd 71-31 in a secret vote of Labor parliamentarians after the former leader challenged her as head of the country's ruling party.

Rudd quit as foreign minister ahead of making his move on Gillard and that position now needs to be filled, as does that of assistant treasurer and right-wing powerbroker Mark Arbib, who has resigned.

While both the prime minister and Rudd – who has now been banished to the backbenches – have urged unity from the party after one of the most damaging and spiteful campaigns in recent history, Gillard said there would be changes.

"I made it clear yesterday that I'll announce the reshuffle in my own time and I'm not going to be speculating on it before I announce it," she told ABC radio.

"I will judge my team on the way I've said I'm going to judge it – on merit and the capacity to take the fight up to the other side of politics.

"That's what will drive my decision."

Five ministers backed Rudd in the leadership wrangle including Resources Minister Martin Ferguson, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese.

Housing Minister Robert McClelland and Manufacturing Minister Kim Carr also opposed Gillard.

Rudd has urged Gillard not to take retributions to help rebuild trust and unity within the splintered Labor party, which badly lags the conservative opposition in the polls ahead of elections due in 2013.

But one of Gillard's key backers, cabinet minister Simon Crean, whose personal attacks sparked Rudd's resignation as foreign minister a week ago, said he expected big changes.

"She (Gillard) has already shown a new assertiveness – the reshuffle should be part of that," said Crean, a former Labor leader who is seen as among the contenders to replace Rudd as the country's top diplomat.

Gillard called the leadership vote in a bid to end a bitter standoff with Rudd, whom she dumped as leader in 2010 in a shock party coup. AFP

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