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Australia's change to believe in: Its first female prime minister, Julia Gillard

June 24, 2010 |  1:36 am

Australia new prime minister julia gillard

If and when President Obama ever does get around to his already twice-cancelled trip to Australia, he won't be meeting Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

He'll be conferring with Australia's brand new prime minister -- and its first female national leader -- Julia Gillard.

Same Labor party. Different leader because Rudd's rigidity and leadership style were rubbing folks the wrong way. And with national elections likely only a few months away, Laborites wanted a new face to contest to keep the political control they recaptured under Rudd in 2007 after 11 years in the outback.

Gillard is a 48-year-old lawyer and 12-year veteran of federal politics, who was a key Rudd ally in Labor's landslide victory three years ago over John Howard's conservative government. Thursday morning, Australia time, however, she ousted Rudd in a sudden and uncontested party leadership revolt.

Gillard was born in Wales, the daughter of a psychiatric nurse who emigrated to Australia when the child was four. As a practicing attorney, the unmarried Gillard was mostly involved representing individuals in workplace disputes and built close ties to organized labor.

Gillard is known as an accomplished public communicator and as a member of the left side of the Labor party. But she has often displayed a pragmatic streak negotiating with opponents. "I don't think Julia Gillard is controlled by anyone," said one union leader.

As Rudd's deputy prime minister, Gillard helped drive the government's massive stimulus spending, which is credited with helping Australia escape the worst of the globe's ongoing economic woes. The country's unemployment rate is currently 5.2% vs. 9.7 in the United States after 16 months of the Democrats' stimulus spending.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Reuters