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Women

Australia's Rudd appoints record number of women in cabinet

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has unveiled his new ministry, which includes a record 11 women. The newly-returned Rudd has rewarded backers who helped him reclaim power while enjoying a surge in popularity.

Rudd named his ministry and cabinet on Monday, five days after seizing leadership of Australia's ruling Labor party from Julia Gillard, the country's first female prime minister who had herself ousted Rudd from the top position three years before.

The ministry includes 11 women out of 30, two more than under Gillard, with six in the 20-member cabinet. It could potentially help Rudd counter any backlash from female voters in the lead up to national elections, the date of which Rudd has not yet named, after last week ruling out Gillard's choice of September 14.

Rudd told reporters the appointments were made on merit, not gender, and rejected suggestions the choices had been political.

"I am delighted that in this cabinet of ours we will have the largest number of women in any cabinet in Australian history," he said.

Australia's first female governor-general, Quentin Bryce, who is the country's representative of Queen Elizabeth II, swore in the ministers on Monday afternoon.

Those brought into the ministry include Jacinta Collins, who enters the cabinet as the mental health minister, Catherine King, minister for regional Australia, and Julie Collins, who takes on the portfolios of housing, homelessness and the status of women.

Those keeping their positions they held under Gillard include finance minister Penny Wong, health minister Tanya Plibersek, and families minister Jenny Macklin. The top portfolios of defense and foreign affairs, held by men, did not change hands.

At least one analyst said that men were likely to dominate Rudd's cabinet, despite the increase in women.

"A more objective analysis...paying attention to the jobs allocated, reveals it will be a close coterie of men who will be running the big arguments, and handling the major problem areas between now and polling day," said Mark Kenny, national political editor of The Advertiser newspaper.

Key supporters of Rudd were rewarded in his choice of ministry, with Chris Bowen appointed treasurer, former defense minister Joel Fitzgibbon brought back into cabinet as agriculture minister, and Kim Carr returning with the industry, science, innovation and higher education portfolios.

Opinion polls held in the last few days suggest that Labor has significantly closed the gap on the conservative opposition, led by Tony Abbott. However they say Abbott's coalition would still win if a parliamentary election were held now.

jr/hc (AFP, Reuters)