THE Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, capped the third day of her election campaign with the resignation of two frontbenchers, leaving her to fend off accusations Labor was spinning out of control.
Ms Gillard announced a frontbench shake-up on Saturday after two of her most trusted ministers resigned: the Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, and the leader of the government in the Senate, Chris Evans.
The Prime Minister's latest shock announcement came just three days after she stunned her party and political observers by setting up the longest ever election campaign - to run until September 14 - and just two days before the resumption of a difficult session of Parliament.
Family time … Nicola Roxon watched over by Julia Gillard as she announces she is stepping down as Attorney-General. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Shocked Labor MPs, struggling to regain their balance over the ''crazy-brave'' election announcement on Wednesday, were again left reeling by the timing of the personnel changes, which Ms Gillard insisted were entirely hers to control.
The changes saw the elevation of four known Kevin Rudd supporters.
Ms Gillard said both outgoing ministers had indicated their desire to leave politics as far back as 12 months ago but she had required them to hold off until the best time for the government.
''We agreed at the right time they would relinquish their ministerial roles and I would make new appointments,'' Ms Gillard said. ''This is precisely the right time as Parliament resumes next week.''
But exasperated colleagues did not share her view. ''If this is the best time, then I know nothing about politics,'' said one. ''This is not a cunning plan … it's ridiculous, it's got me f---ed,'' said another.
The resignations have also raised talk of rats leaving a sinking ship and had internal critics claiming it again showed the Prime Minister's political judgment remained problematic, with her government seen as lurching from crisis to crisis.
The biggest winner is the former Melbourne barrister Mark Dreyfus. He leap-frogs the outer ministry by going straight from parliamentary secretary to attorney-general.
The senate leadership post is subject to a ballot of the ALP caucus to be held tomorrow in Canberra.
It is expected to be filled by the Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, after the Finance Minister, Penny Wong, chose not to run.
Senator Evans and Ms Roxon stepped down at a press conference in Canberra, both offering the same reason for leaving - a desire to spend more time with their families.
An emotional Ms Roxon, who was health minister for nearly four years before becoming Australia's first female Attorney-General last year, said she was ''torn'' by the decision to quit at the election. She will serve out the remainder of the parliamentary year on the backbench.
''When I was elected 15 years ago, I hadn't even met my husband, Michael, and my daughter, Rebecca, was a long way from being born,'' she said. ''If I run for office again, she'll almost be in high school before I might retire.''
Senator Evans, who has been flying between Canberra and Perth for almost 20 years, said simply, ''the time has come.'' He will step down from the Senate when a replacement can be found, to be appointed by the West Australian Premier, Colin Barnett, on advice from the pre-selector of the state's Labor branch.
Their shock double-departure has added to concerns the government cannot get clear air, nor avoid self-imposed mistakes. In the three days since Ms Gillard set out on a 7½- month election campaign, her government has been rocked by the return of controversy surrounding Craig Thomson.
Mr Thomson's arrest on Thursday followed closely on the heels of the dumping of the Labor senator Trish Crossin in favour of the party outsider, Nova Peris.
And on Friday, the ALP's vice president, Tony Sheldon, slammed ''B-grade ministers'' in an address to Young Labor and complained of a moral crisis within the party.
The reshuffle prompted despair among pro-Rudd MPs. One said it was ''a total joke, we're a laughing stock''.
The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, called on Ms Gillard to regain control of her government.