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Gillard takes Australian helm: 'The government was losing its way'

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Leadership shuffle in Australia
  • NEW: "The government was losing its way," says new prime minister Gillard
  • "I've given it my absolute all," says former Prime Minister Rudd
  • Vote came moments after Rudd's position was declared vacant

Sydney, Australia -- Australia's new prime minister, Julia Gillard, said Thursday that she had respect for the leadership of her predecessor, Kevin Rudd, but moved to replace him because "I came to the view that the government was losing its way."

The 48-year-old lawyer made her remarks after the Labor Party caucus declared vacant the positions of leader and deputy leader and then chose Gillard to take the helm, ending Rudd's two and a half years as prime minister.

The party also chose Wayne Swan, who served as treasurer of Rudd's government, to serve as deputy.

Gillard offered praise for Rudd, but said she had chosen to oppose him "to make sure this government got back on track."

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Gillard said she would call for a general election "in coming months," but did not specify when.

Gillard said she was aware that the move makes her the nation's first woman in that position, "and maybe the first redhead," but added, "I didn't set out to crash my head on any glass ceilings; I set out to keep my feet on the floor."

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Video: Leadership shuffle in Australia

Gillard said she would work to harness wind and solar energy and to pursue putting a price on carbon emissions, but said she would not address the latter goal -- which her predecessor had been unable to achieve -- until after a general election. "First, we will need to establish a common consensus for action," she said.

Gillard said she would also pursue increasing taxes on mining companies, another issue that had stirred controversy and fierce opposition from the industry. "Australians are entitled to a fairer share of our inheritance of the mineral wealth that lies in our grounds," she said.

But the recent uncertainty over mining taxes must end, she said, and invited the powerful mining industry to negotiate. "I am opening the government's door to the mining industry, and I ask that, in return, the mining industry throws open its mind."

Gillard said she would immediately end government advertisements on the matter and called on the industry "as a show of good faith and mutual respect" to end its.

Gillard worked her way through the ranks of the union movement, which is at the heart of the Australian Labor Party. She was largely seen as an effective and loyal deputy.

"Julia's unique, hard-working, passionate, driven by noble ideals and wants to do good things for the country," John Gillard told 7 Network Australia about his daughter.

Born in Wales, she moved with her parents to Australia when she was a child. After studying law, she was elected to the House of Representatives for Lalor, Victoria in 1998, 2001, 2004 and 2007 prior to joining Rudd as deputy prime minister.

The fast-paced changes appeared to have shocked Rudd. "I've given it my absolute all," he told reporters, his family by his side. "I'm proud of the achievements that we've delivered."

Speaking haltingly, occasionally stopping to regain his composure, he said he was proud of his accomplishments on the economy, altering the health care system, improving education, cutting homelessness, boosting organ donations and increasing pensioners' incomes.

He noted that his efforts on carbon emissions failed, and called on Gillard "to pass a carbon-pollution reduction scheme within this Parliament -- the one that follows, I mean -- so that we can make a real difference to climate change."

Rudd added, "What I'm less proud of is the fact that I've now blubbered."

Rudd said that he would work to ensure the re-election of the Labor government. "They're a good team led by a good prime minister," he said, then hastened to add, "I meant Julia, not me. Because I'm still the prime minister, I think, for another quarter of an hour."

The Mandarin-speaking career diplomat won his party's leadership in 2006 and won a landslide victory over the government of conservative John Howard in 2007.

He won plaudits for managing Australia through the worldwide economic turmoil of recent years, making it the only member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to steer clear of recession during the downturn.

This year he backed an emissions trading scheme that he trumpeted as a major moral issue.

But when Parliament failed to support his plan, he backed off and his popularity began to erode. He then tried to implement a tax on miner profits, but met resistance from the industry and from Australians who said he was attacking the industry that underpins the nation's economy.

Rudd's inability to push through those programs led many among his party to question his ability to lead the government into the next election, which is expected to be held this year. And his alliance with the United States in the war in Afghanistan -- where five Australian soldiers died this month -- won him little support at home.

CNN's Stan Grant contributed to this story from Sydney