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|Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard|
Barely minutes ago, Julia Gillard won a party room ballot to take over the leadership of the Australian Labor Party. This makes her the new Prime Minister of Australia.
Australian Politics differs from the U.S. at the very top in that we do not get to directly elect the person who leads the Country.
The elected members, both Representatives and Senators elect from among them who leads the Party.
Rarely does a Party vote out a Leader who is the Prime Minister. More often than not the Party works out a succession plan, and Leaders have been known to resign during a term as Prime Minister so that the next leader has some time in the Office prior to taking the Country to an election.
For a Party to dump its Leader mid term is something that has rarely happened. Such has been the case a couple of times in Australia’s history, but this is the first time it has happened during that Leaders first term in the highest office, that of the Prime Minister.
Even though all these members are from the the one Party, the Australian Labor Party, which is the left side of politics here in Australia, and similar to the Democrats in the U.S. there are separate factions within that Party, and not just a couple, but many of them. There are factions from the left, the centre left, the right, the independents, those unaligned, and other smaller factions. Each of those factions has the backing of Unions both big and small. Deals are done so that factions line up together and vote as a block. Those factions also do deals with each other as well to support one candidate or another.
When his Party comfortably won the election in 2007, Kevin Rudd became Prime Minister and at one stage was the most popular Prime Minister in the history of Australia with approval polls rating him in the high 70’s and low 80’s.
However, recently he has struggled to get his point of view across, and those approval ratings have fallen to the high 30’s and low 40’s. The popularity of the Party has also fallen and those numbers put Labor in a position where it might lose Government.
This of itself is something that is not very common, a Party comfortably winning an election and then losing the next election, becoming a one term Government.
What is disconcerting about this vote today in the Party Room is that this Labor Government has to call a Federal Election within the next few months, and for a Party to change leaders, let alone a Leader who is the Prime Minister, this close to an election makes it a lot easier for the Conservatives to take back the Government. Here in Australia, that conservative side of politics is made up of a coalition of two major Parties. They are the Liberal Party of Australia and the Nationals. The Liberal Party may have a name that Americans identify with the left side of politics, but they are the major Conservative Party, and with the same ideals, principles, and policies the same as for the Republicans in the U.S.
Julia Gillard came through the ranks of University politics where she got her grounding. She is a lawyer by profession and in fact was a lawyer for the Union who ended up backing her with preselection for a Federal seat in the House of Representatives. Before entering the Federal Parliament, she was Chief of Staff for John Brumby, the deputy premier of the State of Victoria. Brumby went on to become the Premier, a position similar to a State Governor in the U.S.
Gillard was elected to federal Parliament in the election of 1998 in the Victorian seat of Lalor.
She held shadow portfolio responsibilities in Population and Immigration, and after that Shadow Health Minister.
The former Leader of the Labor Party was Kim Beazley, now Australian Ambassador in the U.S. Prior to that 2007 election Kevin Rudd took over as Leader after a Party room vote, and Julia Gillard was elected as his Deputy Leader.
After that 2007 election, she then assumed the position of Deputy Prime Minister, historically, the first woman to hold that position.
Julia Gillard also holds the important Cabinet position as Minister for Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, and has largely been responsible for the rollout of the ‘Building the Education Revolution’ (BER) program here in Australia, overseeing the rollout of a vast building program in schools, part of the original stimulus package introduced to counter the Global Financial Crisis. This program is currently proceeding, and has been plagued with rorting and overspends.
Julia Gillard has held up well as this minor problem plagues her Ministry, and has cleverly deflected criticism of this BER rollout.
While Kevin Rudd was at the disastrously failed Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Julia Gillard assumed the position of Acting Prime Minister, the first time a woman has led the Country.
In this first term of this Labor Government, she has held the position of Acting Prime Minister for a total of 69 days.
Now, after this historic vote, she now becomes Leader of her Party, and the Prime Minister of Australia.
No matter which side of Politics you support, this is a truly historic day for Australia.
In the end the Party Room vote was a unanimous vote for Julia Gillard, as Kevin Rudd withdrew from the two person contest.