Julia Gillard was sworn in as Australia's first woman Prime Minister on Thursday, after she toppled Kevin Rudd as leader of the ruling Labour party in what was seen across the region as a political coup at the speed of thought.
Ms. Gillard was Deputy Prime Minister under Mr. Rudd who had led Labour to a remarkable victory in the last federal election in November 2007.
Shortly before being sworn in by Governor-General Quentin Bryce in Canberra on Thursday, 48-year-old Ms. Gillard told journalists that the latest leadership change was designed to reverse the recent trend of “a good government losing its way”. Not being an elected Prime Minister at this stage, she would certainly seek a mandate in the “coming months”.
For becoming the first woman Prime Minister of Australia, she “did not” of course “set out to crash [her] head on any glass ceilings.”
It was late on Wednesday that Ms. Gillard, widely associated with the political values of the Left since her days as a student activist, publicly asked Labour to “make a leadership change”. At that stage, a contest with the then leader, Mr. Rudd, seemed possible. On Thursday morning, however, he yielded ground without a contest and resigned as Prime Minister. By then, he found himself isolated in the party caucus, according to experts on the Australian political scene.
Bowing out of office gracefully, Mr. Rudd pledged to ensure the re-election of Labour as the governing party. Citing his success in guiding Australia through the latest global economic crisis, he took credit for doing his absolute best at the national helm.
Ms. Gillard, too, praised Mr. Rudd at her press conference. “He made wonderful history by saying ‘sorry' to indigenous Australians. He was the leader who withdrew our troops from Iraq and had the foresight to reinforce our commitment in Afghanistan. …. And, he came within a breath of brokering an international agreement on climate change.”
On climate change debate in Australia, viewed as the turning point in Mr. Rudd's political fortunes, Ms. Gillard said: “If elected as Prime Minister, I will re-prosecute the case for a carbon price at home and abroad.” She would seek “consensus” on another contentious issue, the proposed “Resources Super Profits Tax”. Towards this objective, she said “negotiations will occur with the Australian mining industry.”
Ms. Gillard was born in Wales and, as a child, migrated to Australia with her family in 1966. She studied arts and law and later worked for some time as a solicitor with a law firm. And, since her election to the Australian House of Representatives in 1998, she raised her political profile to the point of now being seen as a leader with a mind of her own.