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Gillard reshuffle hints at election

Australia's first woman prime minister has announced very few changes to her cabinet in a reshuffle that analysts say points to an election within weeks.

Buoyed by opinion polls endorsing her new leadership, Prime Minister Julia Gillard promoted no fresh ministers to her cabinet ahead of an election she is set to call before the end of the year.

Former Trade Minister Simon Crean takes over Gillard's portfolios of employment, industrial relations and social inclusion, while Foreign Minister Stephen Smith adds trade to his portfolio.

"It is best to have as limited a reshuffle as possible to keep maximum stability among the team and to keep our focus on the work that Australians need the government to be doing," she said.

Gillard ousted her predecessor Kevin Rudd last Thursday in a leadership challenge for the ruling Labor Party. She dropped Rudd from the cabinet, but said she would offer him a senior cabinet post if Labor is re-elected at the looming election.

Norman Abjorensen, an Australian National University political scientist, said the scant cabinet changes betrayed Gillard's plans to call an election soon.

Broader changes would have burdened Gillard with more inexperienced ministers who needed time to establish themselves before she could risk going to the voters.

Abjorensen predicted an election by August 28 if a spectacular rise in the government's popularity revealed in an opinion poll was maintained over the next few weeks.

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