RESHUFFLE losers Kim Carr and Robert McClelland have bluntly declared they did not want to be turfed out of their jobs, as Prime Minister Julia Gillard reacted tetchily to questioning about her controversial reshuffle, which gave big promotions to key backers.
As leadership aspirant Kevin Rudd bought into the debate with a spirited defence of Senator Carr's performance as industry minister, the demoted ministers put the heat on Ms Gillard.
Senator Carr said his move out of cabinet to the junior portfolio of Manufacturing and Defence Materiel "was not of my choosing". Thanking those who had worked with him, he said the reshuffle was "not a reflection of our efforts or our achievements".
Mr Rudd, who is overseas, said the reshuffle was a matter for Ms Gillard but "Minister Carr has been, in my experience, a very good minister for industry.
"He was largely responsible during the global financial crisis for ensuring that none of the Australian car companies fell over . . . I have much respect for his work on that count."
Mr McClelland, who becomes Minister for Housing, Homelessness and Emergency Management when ministers are sworn into their new jobs today, said he had told Ms Gillard he preferred to remain Attorney-General.
Ms Gillard admitted: "He didn't want to leave being Attorney-General. Being involved in these conversations about change obviously means you have a set of difficult conversations."
The PM denied ministers had threatened to resign and bit back sharply when it was put to her that, given the numbers in the House, such threats were not needed. "Oh, crazy. What's the point of that question?" she said on the ABC.
She said she had selected the best team to meet the circumstances of the nation now. "I have selected people who have got the skills to deliver the changes we need . . . But I've also selected people who can publicly make that case for change."
She strongly defended the promotion of two of her strongest backers in last year's coup, Bill Shorten and Mark Arbib. She said Mr Shorten had done a remarkable job when he had responsibility for disability and a great job in superannuation, while Senator Arbib had the "capacity to step up and do more".
Pressed on why she had demoted Senator Carr, she said she had wanted to "create a new department and new portfolios to focus us on the future economy, and that is what I've asked Greg Combet [who will take over Industry as well as continuing in Climate Change], in particular, to do."
The government was working out yesterday whether Mr Shorten, who is the new Workplace Relations Minister, will still be acting Treasurer and acting Finance Minister for much of January, when both Wayne Swan and Penny Wong are on leave. Unless Ms Gillard acts in these jobs herself, the government lacks other appropriate senior ministers.
Former High Court judge Mary Gaudron, the first woman to serve on the court, will be at the swearing in today of Nicola Roxon, her former associate, as the first female federal Attorney-General.