| SYDNEY, June 24
SYDNEY, June 24 Australia's new prime minister,
Julia Gillard, has become the first woman to lead her country,
but her leadership style evokes the past, not the future.
A quick-witted politician, with a broad Australian accent
and a working-class pedigree, Gillard is in many ways an
old-school Labor Party politician, more reminiscent of Labor
prime ministers from the 80s and 90s than her bookish
predecessor, Kevin Rudd.
Like previous Labor prime ministers Bob Hawke and Paul
Keating, Gillard stands in stark contrast to Rudd, a
Mandarin-speaking ex-diplomat who broke the mould as a Labor
leader in 2006 when he took control of a then demoralised
Rudd won a landslide election victory in 2007, ousting
veteran conservative leader John Howard, and then dominated the
opinion polls until, suddenly, last April the fairy tale ended.
Thanks to a few big policy failures, Labor's "Prince
Charming" began losing the confidence of voters and, just as
suddenly, Gillard was emerging as a new but much more familiar
Labor hero, a working-class politician with a talent for
Where Rudd once told lawmakers about "evidence-based
policy" and explained in heavy detail the complexities of his
tax or climate-change policies, Gillard stood in parliament on
Thursday and launched straight into vintage Labor rhetoric.
"I grew up in a home of hard-working parents," began the
48-year-old daughter of a former policeman and rail clerk.
"I believe in a government that rewards those who work the
hardest, not those who complain the loudest," she added.
"I believe in a government that rewards those who, day in
and day out, work in our factories and on our farms, in our
mines and in our mills, in our classrooms and in our hospitals,
that rewards that hard work, decency and effort."
Gillard arrived in Australia, aged four, in the 1960s from
south Wales, a cradle of Britain's own Labour movement. Her
father had gone to work before finishing school, his family too
poor to support him through higher education.
Gillard initially lived in a migrant hostel in the rural
town of Adelaide before her father bought a house. She studied
law at university, where she got involved in politics and then
became a partner in a law firm specialising in class actions
and personal injury cases before working as a political
Gillard was first elected to parliament in 1998, and
quickly rose to become a leading light of the Labor left,
becoming shadow health minister in 2003 and then backing Rudd
for the leadership in return for the deputy Labor leadership.
Gillard kept in Rudd's shadow until this year's
opinion-poll meltdown when, without apparent hesitation or
squeamishness, she made her move just months away from a
general election, just as Hawke did on the eve of another
election in the early 1980s.
Gillard seems to model her leadership style on the Hawke
era, when cabinet forged policy by consensus -- another
departure from Rudd, whose corporate-style management rankled
"Her consultation skills are fantastic," said one senior
industry figure who negotiated opposite Gillard on
labour-market reforms. "She is bloody good," he told Reuters.
That will be good news for global miners that are
threatening to pull more than $20 billion in investment unless
the government overhauls its proposed 40 percent mine-profits
tax. Gillard has refused to drop the tax so must negotiate a
Even if Gillard shares Hawke's famed negotiating skills,
and Keating's sharp wit, she also faces a challenge that no
previous Australian leader has ever known: being a woman in
She has long attracted headlines for her hair, which she
recently restyled and dyed an auburn shade instead of its
natural ginger, her partner who is a hairdresser and her
decision not to have children.
One conservative lawmaker even once remarked her unmarried
status made her unfit to govern. He later apologised for the
comment but, in the socially conservative heartland of
middle-class Australia, it can be an issue.
"She's not married is she? No children either," remarked
Elvie Santos, a legal secretary, when asked during her lunch
break on Thursday whether she liked Gillard.
But she added: "Let's give her a try. You never know."
(Additional reporting by James Grubel; Editing by Ed Davies
and Miral Fahmy)