Australia gets its 1st female PM as Rudd ousted

Premier's removal shows Labor party had lost faith that he could win a second term at national elections due within months.

Julia Gillard 311 AP (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Julia Gillard 311 AP
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
CANBERRA, Australia — Australia's ruling party ousted its leader Thursday in a sudden revolt that also delivered the country its first female leader and stunned the public.
Kevin Rudd's deputy, Julia Gillard, was elected leader in an uncontested vote about 12 hours after she surprised many colleagues by challenging a prime minister who until recently was one of the most popular in modern Australian history.
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Rudd was one of the West’s few Chinese-speaking leaders and helped broker the Copenhagen climate change agreement, but his quick removal showed his party had lost faith he could win a second term in national elections due within months.
Many foreign policies, including Australia’s 1,500- strong military contribution to the war in Afghanistan, are not likely to change under Gillard.
Isi Liebler, the Israel-based former leader of an Australian Jewish umbrella body, said Gillard’s ascent to prime minister is “outstanding” for Israel.
Gillard is “one of Israel’s closest friends,” he said. “She was here in 2005 and last year, when she led a 40-member delegation. During the the war [Cast Lead] in 2009, she was extraordinarily [supportive] and positive of Israel’s position.”
Contrary to press reports that refer to Gillard as “the left of the Labor Party,” Liebler insists “she’s a centrist. She was supported by the Left because of [political] upheavals related to [outgoing] prime minister [Kevin Rudd], but that had nothing to do with ideological matters.”
The leadership change immediately eased hostilities between the government and big mining companies over a proposed tax on so-called super profits from burgeoning mineral and energy sales to China and India.
Gillard quickly ended an advertising campaign that promoted the tax, keeping a Labor promise that Rudd broke to never use taxpayers’ money for political advertising.
The world’s biggest miner, BHP-Billiton, responded by suspending counter-advertising that claimed the new tax would cost jobs and investment in the mineral sector, which is driving Australia’s economic growth.
Gillard said her government is willing to negotiate on the proposed tax. Opinion polls show the tax debate is doing increasing harm to the government’s re-election chances.
“I have said to the mining companies of this nation publicly that the government is opening its door, and we are asking them to open their minds,” Gillard told Parliament.
Rudd rode high in opinion polls until he made major policy backflips, including shelving plans in April to make Australia’s worst polluters pay for their carbon gas emissions.
Israel has had a tense relationship with the Rudd government over allegations that Israeli agents allegedly used faked Australian passports in the assassination of Hamas arms dealer Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai in January.
Rudd and Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith have taken Israel to task over the alleged passport use, calling it “not the actions of a friend.”
On the passports issue, Liebler said, “there’s no doubt in my mind that things will be better with her.”