Australian PM to take office after election drama

Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her cabinet will be sworn in on Tuesday faced with the challenge of holding together a precarious coalition government after cliffhanger elections.

Gillard, Australia’s first woman prime minister, will take the oath of office at around 2:15 pm (0415 GMT) alongside ex-leader Kevin Rudd, whom she controversially deposed but has now named as foreign minister.

The ceremony caps weeks of drama after the party revolt against Rudd, followed by polls that produced the first hung parliament in decades and left Gillard relying on Greens and independent MPs for support.

Gillard’s first cabinet as an elected leader contains potential divisions with Rudd sitting alongside the party powerbrokers credited with orchestrating the sudden and surprising Labor mutiny in June.

The prime minister was forced into a late change just hours before the ceremony 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.

Garrett is one of three government members sharing education after Gillard, a former education minister, decided to split the ministry, prompting concerns among student groups and universities over a possibly fractured approach.

Disillusionment with the major parties was blamed for creating Australia’s first minority government since World War II, despite strong economic growth and low unemployment underpinned by buoyant mining exports to Asia.

Gillard has promised 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 two conservative-leaning independents.

The Welsh-born former “Ten Pound Pom” controls 76 seats in the 150-member House of Representatives, meaning a single defection or absence could produce stalemate in the lower house.

Analysts say the new government is a “delicate” arrangement which will require constant negotiation.

“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 … (rather) than robust policy development.”

Gillard, a red-headed industrial lawyer, became Australia’s first woman leader by ousting Rudd on June 24 and called polls three weeks later, banking on a wave of support.

But the anticipated honeymoon period failed to materialise as many voters turned away from the two main parties and handed the environment-focused Greens a record ballot share.