Julia Gillard was announced on Thursday as Australia's first woman prime minister after Kevin Rudd stepped down in tears as the ruling Labour Party's leader at a ballot meeting. Gillard, who said that she was "honoured" to head the country, will now decide when to lead the party into the next election. She will be sworn in as prime minister by Governor- General Quentin Bryce at 1230 hrs (local time). The new leader for the Labour Party was elected unopposed.
A visibly upset Rudd, who could barely speak, stood aside to avoid a humiliating defeat. According to reports, Rudd was reduced to tears as he addressed his colleagues and announced his decision to standaside as the leader. Rudd ignored questions from reporters as he left the caucus room. Gillard was believed to have had the numbers before going into Thursday morning's ballot, which was not held. The 49-year- old leader also had the backing of the powerful Australian Workers Union. A series of policy failures, poor polls and the decision to go to war with the mining industry have all contributed to Rudd's plunging fortunes among his colleagues.
On Wednesday night, Rudd had announced that his deputy Prime Minister Gillard had asked him to hold ballot for the leadership role of Labour Party. Reports said that the entire national Right, including the New South Wales Right and its kingmaker Mark Arbib, had last night swung behind Gillard, as had the Victorian Left, led by Kim Carr, who had installed Rudd. After a three-hour crisis meeting in his office on Wednesday night with Gillard and veteran fixer John Faulkner, Rudd held a media conference and said he would fight. "I was elected by the people of Australia as the Prime Minister of Australia," he said. "I was elected to do a job and I intend doing that job." However, Rudd had acknowledged that he was abandoned by most of the factional power-brokers.
The 53-year-old came to power in 2007 defeating the Conservative incumbent John Howard by an overwhelming margin, but the strong support he had enjoyed appears to have dissipated in the face of some unpopular policy measures. Meanwhile, Gillard now joins the list of women to have become leaders of Western countries like Germany's current Chancellor Angela Merkel, former New Zealand premier Helen Clark and Britain's 'Iron Lady' Margaret Thatcher. She also goes one better than Australian premiers Anna Bligh, Kristina Keneally, Joan Kirner and Carmen Lawrence. Gillard's father John Gillard said he was feeling "elated, excited, mindful of the enormous job ahead of binding the party together" that faced his daughter. She is understood to have entered the caucus meeting with 70 of the 115 votes.
Image: Australian Prime Julia Gillard: Photograph: Mick Tsikas