Australian PM unveils government reshuffle

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced a reshuffle of his government on Saturday after his former defence minister was forced to step down in disgrace.

The highest profile of Rudd's new appointments was that of former trade union boss Greg Combet, who became minister for defence personnel, material and science, as well as the assistant minister for climate change.

Combet, 51, who has been serving as a parliamentary secretary, is a rising political star who was elected to parliament just 18 months ago at the same time Rudd came to power.

"This reshuffle underlines the government's continued commitment to its core priorities including nation building for recovery... and getting on with the task of strengthening Australia's security," Rudd told reporters in Brisbane.

The changes came two days after former defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon fell on his sword in an embarrassing first ministerial resignation for the Rudd government.

Political heavyweight John Faulkner was appointed the country's new defence minister on Friday.

Other appointments on Saturday included Assistant Treasurer Chris Bowen joining the cabinet as minister for financial services, superannuation and corporate law, as well as minister for human services.

Fitzgibbon stepped down following the latest in a series of controversies surrounding him involving breaches of government transparency rules.

It emerged that Fitzgibbon's office called an army general in charge of defence health services to a meeting with his brother, who runs an insurance company.

Fitzgibbon had been under pressure since March when he admitted not declaring two trips to China paid for by wealthy businesswoman Helen Liu, who has been accused by media of having links to Chinese intelligence.

in Bulgaria. AP