Shock as first woman PM in Australia is axed by party
Old rival Rudd back at helm
Julia Gillard, Australia's first female prime minister, was unceremoniously ousted as Labour leader by her long-standing rival Kevin Rudd as her MPs voted to ditch her ahead of a forthcoming general election.
As she acknowledged her defeat, by 57 votes to 45 at a closed party meeting yesterday, Ms Gillard fought back tears and expressed the hope that she had paved the way for female leaders.
"It will be easier for the next woman and the woman after that and the woman after that. I am proud of that," she said.
The meeting, called at only a few hours' notice, was the climax to months of in-fighting as Labour MPs faced up to the near-certainty of defeat in an election that Ms Gillard had declared would be held in September.
Ms Gillard (51), who was born in Wales and arrived in Australia as a "Ten Pound Pom", had been at the centre of a long-running "gender war" in which she endured persistent mockery.
She said last night that she would resign from parliament at the election, adding that she believed she had suffered from the continuing sexist furore surrounding her leadership.
Ms Gillard, who is unmarried and has no children, has faced criticism and personal barbs. These included questions about whether her partner, Tim Mathieson, was gay and criticisms for showing too much cleavage in parliament.
However, sympathy for the manner in which she was removed as leader was tempered by its echoes of her own successful move against Mr Rudd, himself then party leader and prime minister, in the run-up to the 2010 election.
Ms Gillard had struggled to overcome speculation about a possible return of Mr Rudd (55), who did little to conceal his ambition for his old job.
Although despised by many of his Labour colleagues, he has strong public approval ratings and is seen as the party's only hope of reversing its ailing political fortunes.
Polls showed that with Mr Rudd as leader, Labour would all but close the opposition Liberal Party's lead of up to 14 points.
Speaking after his triumph, Mr Rudd pledged to end the period of political instability and constant "negativity".
"It's done much to bring dishonour to our parliament but done nothing for our nation, our communities, our families," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)