Aussie PM demotes environment minister

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) - Australia's environment minister - a former rock star who gave up music to pursue politics - was demoted Friday in the wake of a botched home insulation project that led to four deaths and embarrassed the ruling party in an election year.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on Friday stripped Peter Garrett of the energy efficiency portfolio - a key element of his environment ministry. That portfolio will now be part of a newly established climate change department.

"There is no point sugarcoating this," Rudd told reporters. "This does mean a different range and reduced range of responsibilities for Minister Garrett."

Garrett has been under pressure from the opposition to resign for leading the insulation program, which was axed earlier this month.

The 3.7 billion Australian dollar ($3.3 billion) program was announced a year ago with the aim of installing free insulation in 2.7 million homes. Since then, more than 1 million homes have been insulated, but four laborers have died in on-the-job accidents.

Shoddy workmanship has also been blamed for house fires and metal insulation sheeting becoming electrified in the ceilings of hundreds of homes.

Opposition lawmakers have accused Garrett of ignoring repeated warnings about the dangers of using unqualified tradesmen to handle the installations.

Rudd had stood by Garrett but Friday's move was an apparent concession of the toll the debacle has taken on the Labor Party. Fallout from the program has dominated parliament discussions and media reports, drowning out the government's attempt to promote its political agenda ahead of federal elections due late this year.

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