Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard stared down a leadership crisis yesterday and ensured she will lead the government into a Sept. 14 election after she called a surprise leadership vote over her chief rival, former prime minister Kevin Rudd.
Gillard stamped her authority on the governing Labor Party by being re-elected unopposed after Rudd conceded he did not have the numbers to topple her. Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan was re-elected as deputy prime minister.
The dramatic move to call on a leadership vote came after months of leadership destabilization, with Rudd’s supporters pushing for a change to help revive the party.
“Today, the leadership of our political party, the Labor Party, has been settled and settled in the most conclusive fashion possible,” Gillard told reporters.
The Labor Party has now endorsed Gillard over Rudd in three leadership votes. However, Gillard faces the prospect of trying to unify a deeply divided party and turning around opinion polls that show her government will be easily defeated in the general election.
“I think they’re terminal. There is no way out of this,” political analyst Nick Economou told reporters.
Gillard’s leadership has been under threat for most of the past two years as her minority government lumbered from one crisis to another, despite an economy which avoided recession after the 2008 global crisis and which has seen has seen 21 years of continuous growth.
Gillard, Australia’s first female prime minister, replaced Rudd in a party coup in June 2010. The dumping of Rudd, an elected prime minister, angered many voters who have never forgiven Gillard for the way she became leader.
Gillard defeated Rudd a second time in a leadership vote in February last year, prompting Rudd to promise that he would only take on the leadership again with the overwhelming support of his party.
Gillard has failed to arrest a slump in opinion polls, which predict a major defeat in September.
Australia’s largely conservative voters never really warmed to Gillard and discontent has deepened despite her ability to negotiate deals with Greens and independents.
Gillard almost lost the 2010 election, winning fewer votes and fewer seats than the conservative opposition, but she held on to power by forging agreements with three independents and the Greens.
However, divisions remained and Gillard never enjoyed clear majority support from parliament or the public, and never had the full support of her own party.
In separate news, Gillard delivered a historic national apology in parliament yesterday to the thousands of unwed mothers who were forced by government policies to give up their babies for adoption.
More than 800 people, many of them in tears, heard the apology in the Australian Great Hall of Parliament House and responded with a standing ovation.
“Today, this parliament on behalf of the Australian people takes responsibility and apologizes for the policies and practices that forced the separation of mothers from their babies, which created a lifelong legacy of pain and suffering,” Gillard told the audience.
Gillard committed A$5 million (US$5 million) to support services for affected families and to help biological families reunite.
A national apology was recommended a year ago by an Australian Senate committee that probed the impact of the discredited policies.
Unwed mothers were pressured, deceived and threatened into giving up their babies from World War II until the early 1970s so they could be adopted by married couples, which was perceived to be in the children’s best interests, the committee report found.
The report found that the federal government had contributed to forced adoption by failing to provide unwed mothers with full welfare benefits.
Adoption rates among unwed mothers were as high as 60 percent in the late 1960s, the report said. The committee could not estimate how many adoptions were forced, but said there were thousands.