Australian PM sworn in

September 14, 2010 12:00 am

, CANBERRA, Sep 14 – Australia\’s first woman prime minister Julia Gillard took office Tuesday at the head of a shaky coalition government after she deposed her predecessor and lost her majority in cliffhanger polls.

The former industrial lawyer, 48, was sworn in for the second time in less than three months after she stunned the country of 22 million by ousting ex-leader Kevin Rudd in June.

"I, Julia Eileen Gillard, do solemnly and sincerely affirm and declare that I will loyally serve the Commonwealth of Australia in the office of prime minister," she told Governor-General Quentin Bryce.

Gillard, who was born in Wales and came to Australia as a "Ten Pound Pom" in 1966, scraped back into power with the support of Greens and independent MPs after August 21 elections returned the first hung parliament in 70 years.

Her centre-left Labor party controls 76 seats in the 150-member House of Representatives, meaning a single defection or death could bring down the government.

Rudd was later sworn in as foreign minister, sitting five seats away from Gillard.

The former leader\’s imposing presence highlights potential rifts in the new cabinet, which also includes the party powerbrokers credited with orchestrating his sudden demise.

Gillard will hope the ceremony marks a new start, after leading a disastrous re-election campaign and only narrowly avoiding becoming the first single-term Australian government since World War II.

She was forced into a late adjustment to her front bench just hours earlier by announcing a minister for Aboriginal health, following strong complaints when the post was left out of the original line-up.

Ex-Midnight Oil singer Peter Garrett returns with an education brief despite being reprimanded after a botched free home insulation scheme that was blamed for four workers\’ deaths and hundreds of house fires.

Disillusionment with the major parties was blamed for creating the rare hung parliament, which came despite strong economic growth and low unemployment underpinned by buoyant mining exports to Asia.

The inconclusive result triggered 17 days of furious horse-trading which eventually came down to the backing of independent MP Rob Oakeshott, who announced his decision on live TV last week.

Gillard must now make good on promises to introduce a new tax on resources profits and measures to ease pollution, while maintaining an eclectic coalition which groups an environment-minded MP with conservative-leaning independents.

"I think it\’s going to be inherently unstable," said political commentator Peter van Onselen. "It\’ll be delicate and it\’ll require the government to take an issue-by-issue approach to its legislation."

The unmarried, atheist and childless prime minister was accompanied at the ceremony by her partner, former hairdresser Tim Mathieson, whose daughter posed in an Australia-flag bikini last week for a racy magazine.

Meanwhile conservative opposition leader Tony Abbott, a Catholic family man who came tantalisingly close to one of Australia\’s great election upsets, named ex-Liberal Party leader Malcolm Turnbull in his new shadow cabinet.

Abbott, a fitness fanatic dubbed the "Mad Monk", claims Gillard failed to win a mandate and will resume his attacks when the new parliament sits on September 28.



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