| 13.8°C Dublin

Australia gets its first woman PM

A sudden revolt within Australia's ruling party gave the country its first woman prime minister, who today promised to safeguard her government's reforms in education, health and industrial law.

Julia Gillard had been deputy to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd since their Labour Party swept to power in a landslide election victory in 2007.

In a sudden move that took many government politicians by surprise, she challenged Mr Rudd yesterday to hold a leadership ballot.

Mr Rudd acknowledged that the party's factional power brokers had lost faith in him and did not contest the leadership at a party meeting today, leaving Ms Gillard to be elected unopposed.

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

"And because I believe fundamentally that the basic education and health services that Australians rely on and their decent treatment at work are at risk at the next election.

"I'm well aware that I am the first woman to serve in this role, but can I say to you, I didn't set out to crash my head on any glass ceilings."

Ms Gillard and her new deputy, Wayne Swan, were to be sworn into their offices today by Australia's first woman Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, within hours of the ballot.

Mr 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 Mr Rudd's place. He was also elected unopposed. Ms Gillard has yet to announce any of the other ministers in her new cabinet.

An emotional Mr Rudd, flanked by his wife and three children, gave his final speech in the prime minister's court yard at Parliament House.