Australian Deputy PM quits, triggering government reshuffle

CANBERRA - Australian Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson resigned
today, saying he had a prostate problem and had lost his passion for
politics, forcing a reshuffle of the conservative government's senior
ministries.

Trade
Minister Mark Vaile, who has a high international profile and who
negotiated Australia's free trade agreement with the United States, is
set to replace him.

Anderson told parliament he was suffering
a long-standing prostate condition that was not life-threatening but
which would not improve without a change to his lifestyle.

He also said politics no longer held any great attractions for him.

"I
do not share the great personal passion for politics that many
parliamentarians so admirably possess," said Anderson, whose
resignation will take affect from mid-July.

Anderson has been
in parliament 16 years and for the past six years has been leader of
the National Party, the junior partner in the coalition government
under Prime Minister John Howard.

Anderson endorsed Vaile as
the next National's leader. The National's leader is traditionally
appointed deputy prime minister under coalition arrangements with their
senior partner, Howard's Liberal Party.

His resignation will
force Howard to promote a new minister to his inner cabinet just as his
government becomes the first in 25 years to take control of the upper
house Senate, allowing it to pass contentious legislation unamended.

Anderson,
48, is a social conservative wheat and livestock farmer from the New
South Wales state. He had publicly canvassed retirement two years ago
but changed his mind at the last moment to stay on to contest the 2004
election.

Anderson, who has been transport minister since
1998, said achievements of his tenure included tighter maritime and
aviation security in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the United
States, and reforming water usage across Australian farmlands.

"It
is a very sad day in some respects. I lose as the deputy prime
minister, and therefore a very close cabinet and government colleague,
a man for whom I have a profound personal regard and affection," Howard
told parliament.

- REUTERS

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