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September 2, 2009

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Sex scandal hits Australian Labor minister

A SEX scandal yesterday rocked Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's troubled Labor Party in the state of New South Wales - a state vital to Rudd's re-election hopes.

New South Wales Labor Health Minister John Della Bosca, a factional state heavyweight, quit his job on Monday amid newspaper revelations that he had a extramarital affair with a 26-year-old woman.

"I made some poor decisions. You have to take your medicine if you make bad decisions," Della Bosca told reporters yesterday.

The state Labor government is deeply unpopular with voters, and opinion polls point to it being thrown out of office in 2011 over a string of scandals and its inability to improve services such as roads, hospitals and schools.

But New South Wales is also a national keystone and with Rudd weighing the possibility of a snap election early next year to overcome an obstructive upper house, Labor's woes there are of deep concern to Rudd and party strategists.

"I don't think there's anyone in the federal government who's going to want to be distracted by anything like this," said Agriculture Minister Tony Burke.

Rudd's government, riding high in opinion polls, controls 83 seats in the 150-seat lower house of parliament.

NSW has 13 seats in the national parliament held by tight margins of less than 5 percent, many in Sydney's suburbs and fringes.

It is also home to almost a third of Australia's 21 million people and a third of national gross domestic product, valued at A$360 billion (US$303.8 billion), despite the highest unemployment record of Australia's six states.

The resignation and lurid details of sex in Della Bosca's ministerial office could cement anti-Labor sentiment, leaving Rudd vulnerable to a backlash from frustrated voters in the state in national elections, say political analysts.

"Della Bosca's spectacular fall confirms the standing of the NSW Labor government as a cross between the last days of Rome, and Melrose Place," wrote political columnist David Penberthy on the Punch news Website, referring to a popular US television soap opera.


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