First female PM for Australia

Australia’s ruling party ousted its leader in a sudden revolt that

also delivered the country its first female leader and stunned the public.

Kevin Rudd’s deputy, Julia Gillard, was elected leader in an

uncontested vote about 12 hours after she surprised many colleagues by

challenging a prime minister who, until recently, was one of the most popular in

recent Australian history.

The removal of Rudd – best known as one of the West’s few

Chinese-speaking leaders and for helping to broker the Copenhagen climate change

agreement – showed his party had lost faith that he could win a second term at

national elections due within months.

The leadership change immediately eased hostilities between

government and big mining companies over a proposed tax on so-called

super-profits from burgeoning mineral and energy sales to China and India.

Gillard today immediately ended an advertising campaign that is

promoting the tax, keeping a Labour promise that Rudd broke to never use

taxpayers’ money for political advertising.

The world’s biggest miner BHP-Billiton responded by suspending

counter-advertising that claims the new tax would cost jobs and harm investment

in the mineral sector, which is driving Australia’s economic growth.

Gillard said her government is willing to negotiate with the miners

on the proposed tax. Opinion polls show the tax debate is doing increasing harm

to government’s re-election chances.

Gillard said in Parliament: “I have said to the mining companies of

this nation publicly that the government is opening its door and we are asking

them to open their minds.”

Rudd had ridden high in opinion polls until he made major policy

backflips, including a decision in April to shelve plans to make Australia’s

worst polluters pay for their carbon gas emissions.

An aeroplane towed a banner over Parliament House today which made

an apparent reference to the backflip: “Julia aim higher on climate.”

But Gillard has not committed to pressing ahead with government’s

so-called emission trading scheme in which polluters would buy and trade permits

for every ton of carbon gas they produce. The Senate has twice rejected the


She said that as prime minister she would seek a community

consensus on how carbon pollution should be priced.

An emotional Rudd, flanked by his wife and three children, gave his

final speech in the prime minister’s courtyard at Parliament House today, saying

he was proud that his first act in government in 2007 had been to ratify the

Kyoto Protocol for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Rudd said: “I’m proud of the fact that we tried three times to get

an emissions trading scheme through this Parliament, although we failed. I’m

less proud of the fact that I have now blubbered,” he joked, as he struggled to

contain his tears.

He said he would contest the next election and continue to serve

government “in any manner in which I can be of assistance”.

Gillard and her new deputy, Wayne Swan, were sworn into their

offices today by Australia’s first woman Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, within

hours of the ballot.

Swan retains his key financial portfolio as treasurer and will to

fly to Canada tomorrow for a summit of Group of 20 major economies in Rudd’s

place. He was also elected unopposed. Gillard has yet to announce any other

ministers in her new cabinet.

Gillard has been instrumental in most of government’s decisions to

date as part of Rudd’s four-member inner circle that included Swan and Finance

Minister Lindsay Tanner.

Tanner announced today he was quitting politics at the next

election for personal reasons.

John Wanna, an Australian National University political scientist,

blamed Rudd’s style and inability to clearly communicate for his plummeting


He said: “He’s not been a bad prime minister but he comes across as

a smarty pants, policy wonk and when he does the human face stuff, he seems a

bit disingenuous to the ordinary person.”

Wanna said dumping Rudd for Gillard – widely regarded as the best

communicator in Parliament – months out from an election was risky for the

government: “We’ve got rid of a successful prime minister after two-and-a-half

years and we’ve never done that before in the past.”

Gillard was born in Barry, Wales, in 1961, the second daughter of a

family who migrated to Adelaide when she was 4 years old in search of a warmer

climate for a lung condition.

A former successful lawyer and state government political staffer,

she has been attacked by some opponents as unsuitable to lead because she is

childless and therefore out of touch with most Australians.

Despite Australia’s weathering the global downturn, recent polling

puts the centre-left government neck-and-neck with the conservative


One poll earlier this month showed Labour trailing the opposition

for the first time in more than four years. Rudd is a Labour hero, having led

the party to victory at 2007 elections after 11 years in opposition.

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