Saffin, Elliot back Gillard

KEVIN RUDD was a good Prime Minister and a decent man, but Australia is in good hands with Julia Gillard, Page MP Janelle Saffin said yesterday.

Ms Saffin and Richmond MP Justine Elliot both threw their support behind Australia’s first woman Prime Minister yesterday as the region’s Nationals and Liberal candidates said the change did not affect the mistakes that sent Labor spiralling in the polls.

Ms Gillard was elected unopposed after Mr Rudd decided at the last minute not to contest a leadership spill at Parliament House yesterday.

Treasurer Wayne Swan was elected to the deputy’s post, also unopposed.

The spill came after months of sliding polls for Labor, the latest of which were suggested the Government would lose the looming election.

Ms Gillard said she had challenged for the leadership ‘because I believed that a good Government was losing its way’.

Mr Rudd surprised many after the vote by saying he intended to remain in Parliament and to contest the next election. He was expected to be given the Foreign Minister’s post, with the existing Minister, Stephen Smith, likely to take over Ms Gillard’s portfolios of Education and Workplace Relations.

Back in Lismore yesterday, Ms Saffin, who had been unable to be in Canberra to vote for either candidate because she was hosting a visit by Timor-Leste President Jose Ramos-Horta, acknowledged the historic nature of Ms Gillard’s ascension to the nation’s top job, but said, at the same time, it was also ‘unremarkable’ in contemporary Australian society.

Justine Elliot, who had reportedly been planning to vote for Ms Gillard in the leadership spill, was not available to speak about the leadership change, but issued a statement saying she welcomed the appointment.

“Julia understands the issues that are important to us on the North Coast,” Ms Elliot said.

“Julia Gillard will be working hard to make sure all Australians are rewarded for their hard work and that their rights are protected.”

Page Nationals candidate Kevin Hogan said Ms Gillard had ‘run the most unsuccessful policy in Australian history in the school halls program’ and the electorate would not let her off the hook.

Mr Hogan, whose election campaign had directly targeted Mr Rudd, said the change would have little impact on his core message.

Richmond Nationals candidate Alan Hunter welcomed the appointment of a woman as PM, but said the Government was still in trouble.

“It’s a government in disarray and it’s hitting the panic button,” he said.

Richmond Liberal candidate Joan van Lieshart said the change would make no difference to her own election effort, which she said wasfocused on local issues.

She said having Ms Gillard as Prime Minister would mean a change in tack for the Coalition.

“Gillard is entirely different. She’s a formidable woman,” she said. “It’s a proud moment for her and I don’t doubt her humility in the role.

“It (Ms Gillard’s appointment) is a move by the factions in the Labor Party. It means a different opponent and we’ll have to look differently at how we run that race. But nothing changes with the policies.”

Timor-Leste president Josê Ramos-Horta, in Lismore yesterday to receive an honorary doctorate from Southern Cross University, paid tribute to Mr Rudd, describing him as a good personal friend and a friend to Timor-Leste.

Mr Ramos-Horta said he was impressed at the ability of Australia’s institutions to continue without missing a beat as the nation’s leader was ousted and replaced.

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