Thursday 23 February 2017

Australia's first female PM pledges election in months

James Grubel in Canberra

Australia's new Prime Minister Julia Gillard at the Federal Parliament House in Canberra yesterday
Australia's new Prime Minister Julia Gillard at the Federal Parliament House in Canberra yesterday

Australia's first female prime minister, Julia Gillard, has promised to end division and call elections within months.

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd made an emotional and ignominious exit, quitting just before the centre-left Labour Party was set to dump him in an internal ballot and less than three years after a stunning election victory in 2007.

"I asked my colleagues to make a leadership change because I believed that a good government was losing its way," Ms Gillard told a news conference.

Bookmaker Centrebet made a Gillard Labour government clear favourites to win the next election over conservative opponents.

Ms Gillard has been one of the government's best performers in parliament with her ability to sell policies and deflect political attacks.

Dispute

The 48-year-old immediately offered to end a bitter dispute over a controversial "super profits" mining tax, which is threatening A$20bn (€14bn) investment.

She unnerved voters by saying she would throw open the door to fresh negotiations.

"It's a genuine offer -- the door of this government is open ... I'm asking the mining industry to open its mind," she said.

Ms Gillard has been instrumental in most of the government's decisions to date as part of Mr Rudd's four-member inner circle that included Wayne Swan and Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner.

Mr Tanner announced yesterday that he was quitting politics at the next election for personal reasons.

John Wanna, an Australian National University political scientist, blamed Mr Rudd's style and inability to clearly communicate for his plummeting popularity.

"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," Mr Wanna said.

Ms Gillard was born in Barry, Wales, in 1961. She is the second daughter of a family who migrated to Adelaide when she was four years old, in search of a warmer climate for a lung condition.

She had a successful career as a lawyer and state government political staffer before taking office.

Despite Australia's weathering the global downturn, recent polling put the centre-left government neck-and-neck with the conservative opposition.

One poll earlier this month showed Labour trailing the opposition for the first time in more than four years.

Irish Independent

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