CANBERRA: New Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull defended his major shake-up of cabinet Monday and said he wished the percentage of women in parliament had been higher so he could have appointed more to key roles.
Turnbull pleaded the case for renewal in his first television interview as leader after clearing out several leading conservatives and appointing many of his own supporters.
He also upped the number of women in cabinet from two to five, with Senator Marise Payne notably becoming the country’s first female defense minister.
“Leaders have to make sure that there is renewal,” he told Channel Nine.
“And that’s why you have seen so many more new faces in the cabinet, so many more women, so many more younger people.”
The percentage of women in parliament is “not as high as it should be”, he said, adding it would be “good” if there had been more available to appoint to new roles.
After a swift internal Liberal Party coup last week to oust Tony Abbott, Turnbull on Sunday removed treasurer Joe Hockey, defence minister Kevin Andrews, employment minister Eric Abetz and popular small business minister Bruce Bilson.
Social Services Minister Scott Morrison replaced Hockey, despite voting for Abbott in the Monday night Liberal leadership vote that Turnbull won 54-44.
Julie Bishop remained as foreign minister and Susan Ley as health and sports minister.
The new prime minister, whose arrival has brought a bounce in the polls, said leaders had to show “inspiration to be more innovative, more optimistic, more creative, more productive”.
With commentators warning that the sacking of leading conservatives could ignite party feuding, Turnbull told ABC radio: “No-one could suggest that this cabinet, this ministry has been assembled on any basis other than merit.”
He continued: “It is vital to have a contemporary, 21st-century government and that requires renewal.”
Turnbull, a Republican who has campaigned for Australia to cut ties with the British monarchy, told Channel Nine it would not be worth raising the issue again until after the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.
“The priorities of the government and the priorities of most Australians are much more immediate and they relate to economic growth and jobs,” he said.
“My own view … is that the next occasion for the republic referendum to come up is going to be after the end of the Queen’s reign.”
Governor-General Peter Cosgrove was due to swear in new ministers in the capital Canberra before midday.