Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s Labor Party won power in Australia’s third most populous state for a fifth straight time, official results showed yesterday, delivering him a boost amid criticism of his handling of the global financial crisis.
The elections in Queensland State also delivered Australia its first woman to be voted into power in her own right — Premier Anna Bligh.
State elections are considered a bellwether for federal politics and the conservative opposition has been chipping away at Rudd’s high opinion poll standing by claiming he has sent the country too far into debt to try to prevent a recession.
Several Australian states have had women leaders before, but they have always taken over from men who retired and the women have subsequently lost office in elections.
Bligh’s incumbent government struggled in opinion polls before Saturday’s election as Queensland’s mining and tourism-dependent economy was battered by the global downturn.
The government also faced bad press over its handling of an oil spill that blackened kilometers of pristine beaches after a freighter’s fuel tank was holed. Critics said the government was too slow to respond.
With the majority of votes counted, Bligh’s Labor appeared certain to have at least 50 seats in the 89-seat state parliament, Election Commission of Queensland data showed. The conservative Liberal-National Party may have 35 seats and the rest went to independents.
“This goes down to a gutsy performance, a very gutsy leader, Anna Bligh,” Rudd told Nine Network television, adding that her election was a great day for Australian women.
Queensland is a vast, mostly Outback state that covers Australia’s entire northeast corner and is a traditionally conservative home to ranchers, sugar cane farmers and elderly people.
“I think there are many people who would never have thought that Queensland would be the state that delivered our first elected woman premier and I’m thrilled and proud of them that they proved everyone wrong,” Bligh told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio yesterday.