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Australian ministers quit as election nears, exodus grows

[SYDNEY] Pressure built on Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison after a second lawmaker quit in as many days, just weeks ahead of an upcoming national election.

Defense Minister Christopher Pyne said Saturday that he will retire at the election. On Friday, Steven Ciobo, in charge of the defence industry portfolio, also said that he won't re-contest his seat. Mr Ciobo's resignation makes way in the Cabinet for Linda Reynolds, a senator in Western Australia, who will take over his responsibilities immediately.

The departures are part of an exodus of senior lawmakers, fuelling perceptions that Mr Morrison's government is heading for defeat. His Liberal-National coalition trails the opposition Labor party in opinion polls and is entering a critical period as May elections loom. Reynolds' addition means the Morrison Cabinet now contains seven women - a record number - he said.

"When you can call up a brigadier, in the form of Linda Reynolds, to take on the role of defense minister, it shows we have a lot of talent on our bench to draw from," Mr Morrison said in Canberra on Saturday.

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Before high-profile former foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop announced last month she wouldn't re-contest her seat, three other coalition ministers said they'll leave politics at the election. Mr Pyne and Mr Ciobo both said their departure from politics wasn't affected by a poor showing for the coalition in recent polls.

"It's got nothing to do with our electoral prospects," Mr Pyne said on Saturday. "I'm not leaving because I'm worried about going into opposition, I'm leaving because 26 years is a tremendous run."

Ms Reynolds will serve as defence minister if the Liberal-National coalition is re-elected, Mr Morrison said. She served in the army for nearly 30 years.

"I've been appointed not because of my gender, but because of my experience," Ms Reynolds said in Canberra, flanked by Mr Morrison. "The message is clearly saying that for every woman in the Liberal party, you don't need to be a quota. If you're good enough, you're in."

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