Australia minister quits in blow to PM Morrison in election year

Minister for Jobs, Industrial Relations and Women Kelly O’Dwyer speaks to the media during a press conference.(Bloomberg pic)

MELBOURNE: Leading Australian lawmaker Kelly O’Dwyer will quit politics after about a decade in parliament, an unexpected blow to Prime Minister Scott Morrison ahead of a national election expected by May.

O’Dwyer, 41, will resign to spend more time with her young children, and to give her family an opportunity to have another child, she told reporters Saturday, speaking alongside Morrison in Melbourne. The jobs and industrial relations minister will continue to serve in the cabinet and step down at the forthcoming election.

Morrison is “someone who I am absolutely confident will lead our government to victory in May,” said O’Dwyer, a mother of two. “I need to be honest about the fact that I can’t commit to another three years.”

The former bank executive and lawyer, who also holds a post as minister for women, was elected to the Melbourne district of Higgins in 2009 and appointed to cabinet in 2015. Morrison’s Liberal-National coalition was trounced in a state ballot in November in Victoria, the capital of which is Melbourne.

O’Dwyer had shown “detailed knowledge and expertise on economic management” while serving in government, according to Morrison, who said he backed her decision.

Morrison is entering a critical period ahead of a national election and is attempting to revive the fortunes of his Liberal-National coalition government. His coalition lags the main opposition Labour Party by 10%, according to the most recent Newspoll in December. Should that margin be replicated at the ballot box, the coalition would lose about 20 seats in parliament and Labor Party leader Bill Shorten would take office.

Morrison’s government has seen other high-profile women quit key roles in recent months. Julie Bishop, who served as Liberal Party deputy leader for 11 years, resigned as foreign minister in August in the aftermath of a leadership tussle that elevated Morrison to prime minister. Lawmaker Julia Banks resigned from Morrison’s party ranks in November to sit in parliament as an independent and criticised a “culture of appalling behavior.”

O’Dwyer, a former executive with National Australia Bank Ltd., previously served in roles including as minister for revenue and financial services. In April 2017, she became the first serving Cabinet minister to give birth while in office.