Gillard: Australia's first woman PM

Posted on
  • Sunday, February 26, 2012
  • by
  • in
  • Labels:

  • SYDNEY, February 26, 2012 (AFP) - Julia Gillard, who faces a challenge to her leadership Monday, came from humble origins as a "Ten Pound Pom" to become Australia's first woman prime minister.
    But Gillard's jump to power, by removing her then-boss Kevin Rudd in a shock Labor party back-room coup, has always overshadowed her time in office and she has never enjoyed her predecessor's mass appeal.
    The flame-haired former industrial lawyer is seen as a brilliant negotiator, overcoming historic electoral deadlock after the August 2010 polls by convincing three independents to join her in coalition.
    As leader she has withstood remorseless political attacks -- including being labelled "Ju-liar" after she backtracked on a key election promise.
    But Gillard lists formidable inner strength as chief among her attributes for top office.
    "Australians can have confidence in me that no matter how hard it gets I've got the determination and personal fortitude to see things through," the 50-year-old said this week.
    Gillard seized power in a sudden Labor Party revolt in June 2010, backed by colleagues fed up with Rudd's high-handed, non-consultative approach -- a move that stunned voters who had elected the former diplomat in a landslide.
    Suddenly Australia had a female, atheist, unmarried, childless -- and unelected -- prime minister.
    Gillard told a bewildered public she had relieved Rudd of his duties in an unopposed party vote, calmly declaring that a "good government was losing its way", but she has been questioned on what happened that night ever since.
    Finally last week Gillard said that Rudd, as leader, had "very difficult and very chaotic work patterns".
    After Rudd's sudden knifing the Welsh-born redhead, whose parents emigrated to Australia in the 1960s, called polls to seek a popular mandate but only just averted disaster, losing Labor's majority and narrowly clinging to power.
    The result -- the nation's first hung parliament in 70 years -- left Gillard relying on the support of a Greens MP and independents to form a fragile coalition government with a majority of just one seat.
    Gillard, who was a firm favourite with voters as deputy to Rudd, has failed to match his popularity as leader and her opinion poll ratings have been dismal despite her efforts to introduce major reforms.
    Julia Eileen Gillard was born on September 29, 1961 in Barry, a port town central to Welsh coal-mining.
    She was just four when she sailed into Australia clutching a toy koala in 1966, after her parents took up a cheap 10-pound migration scheme hoping warmer air would cure her chronic lung problems.
    Gillard was a bright student who progressed from state school to read arts and law in the quiet, modest city of Adelaide, where her family had settled. She became the president of the Australian Union of Students in 1983.
    She then forged a career in industrial relations law in Melbourne before diving into politics as chief of staff to the then opposition leader in Victoria, John Brumby.
    After initially being rejected by the Labor Party for a parliamentary seat, Gillard entered the House of Representatives in 1998, winning the safe seat of Lalor.
    Gillard, from the party's left, became known for her pragmatism and savage wit, memorably calling the opposition's Tony Abbott a "snivelling grub" and his Liberal Party colleague Christopher Pyne a "mincing poodle".
    She lives with her partner, former hairdresser Tim Mathieson.


    Please add comment to express your opinion, and share it on Twitter or Facebook. Thank you in advance.