Q+A-PM Gillard changes Australian government election hopes

CANBERRA Thu Jun 24, 2010 9:05am BST

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CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australia's ruling Labor party elected Julia Gillard as the nation's first woman prime minister on Thursday after former prime minister Kevin Rudd quit on losing the support of his lawmakers.

Gillard, 48, has promised a more consensus-driven government to help her party reconnect with disgruntled voters after months of poor opinion polls and with an election expected around October.

Here are some questions and answers on how Gillard's appointment changes the political outlook in Australia. IS

LABOR MORE LIKELY TO WIN THE NEXT ELECTION?

Gillard's election should help Labor re-build voter support ahead of the election, and should give the party a stronger chance of victory. Opinion polls regularly find Gillard to be more popular than Rudd, and betting agencies have already reported Labor is now the firm favourite to win the election.

Gillard has long been one of the government's best performers in parliament with her ability to sell policies and deflect political attacks. Her promise of a consensus style of government is also in stark contrast to Rudd's sometimes autocratic style.

Gillard also has wide voter appeal to both men and women, compared to conservative opposition leader Tony Abbott, a former Catholic seminarian who regularly polls poorly with women voters.

She is also likely to now enjoy a political honeymoon period, and every action of the first woman to lead the country is likely to be closely reported by media early in her time in charge.

DOES THIS CHANGE THE ELECTION TIMING?

Gillard's appointment is unlikely to change the timing of the next election, which is due by the end of the year. She is likely to spend the coming months travelling the country, and making sure Australian voters know who she is and where she comes from.

She has also called a truce in the government's damaging fight with miners over a proposed 40 percent profits tax. She is likely to need time to broker a deal ahead of the election.

An early poll in August would be risky for a new leader, still getting used to the wider responsibilities of the job. Gillard's home state of Victoria also has elections set for late November. Both point to an election in early to mid October.

WHAT POLICIES MAY CHANGE?

Gillard has already signalled a more consultative approach on the mining tax, and has indicated a stronger focus on the postponed emissions trading scheme if she wins the next election.

But Gillard could also make changes to controversial asylum seeker policies. More boatpeople arrivals in recent years has been a simmering issue on talkback radio, and Labor has been vulnerable to opposition attacks blaming Rudd's policies for the arrivals. At her first media conference, Gillard signalled a firmer stance after stressing she understood why Australians were disturbed about refugee boats arriving in Australian waters.

HOW WILL THE ELECTION BATTLE SHAPE UP?

Gillard's elevation changes the political battle with opposition leader Tony Abbott.

Abbott is a blunt speaking conservative who grabs headlines with his combative style. Gillard can be a sharp-witted debater, but also retains a calm and composed demeanour when under attack.

Abbott may need to take care in his attacks on Gillard, to ensure the election does not become about personalities, particularly as Gillard's election adds a gender issue to the political debate.

Gillard, in her first news conference as prime minister, has already made it clear she will focus her political attacks on Abbott's views on workplace laws, and on health and education. Abbott has stressed that while Gillard is a new face for Labor, she supports the same policies as Rudd.

(Editing by Ed Davies and Miral Fahmy)

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