3 Australian ministers quit over leadership fiasco

Three Australian government ministers quit their portfolios on Friday in the continuing fallout from a bungled leadership showdown that reinforces perceptions of a crisis in Prime Minister Julia Gillard's administration six months before national elections.

Cabinet ministers Chris Bowen and Martin Ferguson as well as Kim Carr, who was a minister outside Cabinet, resigned Friday over their support for Gillard's rival, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Five ministers have now resigned or have been dumped by Gillard over the botched scheme to reinstall Rudd. Another three lawmakers have also resigned from senior positions within the government.

The loss of experienced ministers will likely exacerbate the government's growing reputation for being shambolic and unstable.

Gillard bent to pressure from within her center-left Labor Party's ranks by throwing open her job to a leadership ballot on Thursday.

Australian prime ministers are chosen by lawmakers within the ruling party, and a leadership change is often considered as a solution to abysmal opinion polling.

Rudd stunned many with an 11th-hour announcement that he wouldn't challenge her. His office said in a statement Friday that "there are no circumstances under which he will return to the Labor Party leadership in the future."

Rudd later explained that he decided against running because it he did not have a clear majority.

"There's no point in inheriting a disunited party," Rudd said.

Bowen and Carr both said a ballot would have been close, but agreed with Rudd's decision not to run in the interests of party unity. But Ferguson, who held the important Resources and Energy Ministry which controls much of Australia's export earnings, said Rudd should have challenged.

"There's a lot of people who feel very let down by his failure to run, a lot of people who have associated with him," Ferguson said.

Ferguson said the party needed "a fresh start" and would be wiped out at elections on Sept. 14 unless there were changes.

"Let's just go forward and try to pull this party together," he said.

Gillard is expected to name her new Cabinet next week.

She said Friday she was surprised that Rudd hadn't taken a shot at the top job. She welcomed Rudd's commitment to never again lead the party.

"This issue has been resolved for all time, and I think Kevin's statement reflects that," she said of the party's leadership tensions.

Rudd led Labor to election victory in 2007 and proved to be a popular prime minister. But when the government's popularity began to slide in opinion polls in 2010, Gillard, his then deputy, ousted him in a leadership challenge.

With the government's popularity plumbing new depths under Gillard, Rudd challenged her leadership a year ago but was trounced in a ballot 71 votes to 31.

Since then, several of her former supporters have lost faith in her ability to turn around the government's fortunes. But Rudd supporters now agree that the opportunity for a leadership change has passed.