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Big changes at research ministry follow Labor leadership crisis

Australia’s prime minister, Julia Gillard, has appointed Craig Emerson as a replacement for Chris Bowen, who resigned last week as minister for tertiary education, skills, science and research.

Alongside his new portfolio, Emerson will retain his roles as minister for trade and competitiveness and minister assisting the prime minister on Asian Century policy.

He will be backed by two junior ministers: Labor senator for South Australia Don Farrell, who has been named minister for science and research, and Sharon Bird, MP for Cunningham, New South Wales, who will be minister for higher education and skills. Both worked as parliamentary secretaries before their appointments.

Bowen, who only started in the post in February, resigned in the wake of last week’s Labor party spill. Announcing his departure on 22 March, Bowen said he will contest his parliamentary seat at the election but that, having backed Kevin Rudd as leader, the “appropriate and honourable” course of action was to resign when Rudd failed to contest the post at the eleventh hour. Gillard, who retained her position as leader of the party and prime minister, warned Rudd supporters that they should reconsider their ministerial positions.

Announcing her new cabinet line-up, Gillard revealed that the Department of Climate Change will be merged into the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education. Climate change minister Greg Combet will keep his role as well as taking on the industry and innovation portfolios.

Gillard rejected a suggestion from the press that the merger could be seen as watering down her government’s commitment to climate change. “Anybody who thinks you can survey the names of departments and somehow come up from that survey as to what a government’s policy priorities are I think is really engaged in a fool’s errand,” she said.

She also said she was “appalled by the events of last week” and that the Labor party had been “self-indulgent” in focusing on leadership battles instead of governing.

“Our eyes were on ourselves rather than doing what we should—being focused on the nation,” she said. “It was an unseemly display but out of that has come clarity. It is now very clear indeed that I have the confidence of my colleagues to lead the Labor party and to remain as prime minister.”