Sydney : Julia Gillard became Australia’s first female prime minister Thursday after incumbent Kevin Rudd stood aside in a party vote amid plunging approval ratings and a run-in with the mining industry over a proposed tax.
Treasurer Wayne Swan, who is to represent Australia at this weekend’s summit in Canada of the Group of 20 of the world’s largest economies, was elected unopposed as deputy party leader and would slot in as deputy prime minister.
The Labor government has only a few months to run before a parliamentary election, and Gillard gave that as the reason she tore down Rudd.
“It was necessary for me to take this step to take control and to ensure that the government got back on track,” she said.
Gillard – a member of Rudd’s infamous Gang of Four, the inner cabinet that made the big decisions of his government like dumping a proposed carbon emissions-trading scheme without consulting cabinet colleagues – nevertheless promised a return to collective decision-making.
She also offered a new start in negotiations with mining companies over a proposed 40-percent profits tax they argued would render many projects unviable.
“Today, I’m throwing open the government’s door to the mining industry,” the British-born Gillard said, offering to give ground in the hope of a compromise.
BHP Billiton Ltd, which along with other mining companies saw its share price lift on news of Gillard’s elevation, said in a statement it was looking “forward to working with the government in this new way to find a solution that is in the national interest”.
Independent member of parliament Bob Katter said Rudd’s vitriolic confrontation with the mining industry, which represents 10 percent of Australia’s economic output, had done in Rudd.
“The mining tax has claimed … a very, very big scalp indeed,” he said.
In November 2007, Rudd led Labor to victory over a conservative coalition that had been in power for 11 years. Stratospheric approval ratings followed and last year made Rudd the most popular prime minister ever.
A spectacular collapse in support for Rudd was the catalyst for Gillard and her backers in the party to make him the first Australian prime minister to be cut down in his first term of office.
Labor, which saw a battering in the polling booths looming, is hoping a new leader would revive its fortunes.
Sportsbet spokesman Haydn Lane said his betting agency had taken an avalanche of bets that a Gillard-led Labor could win the election.
“The betting witnessed over the past 24 hours is unprecedented and has been quite remarkable,” he said Thursday.
Rival internet betting agency Centrebet also had Labor back in front after Rudd’s shock exit.