Julia Gillard was sworn in as Australia’s prime minister Tuesday, faced with leading a fragile coalition government after scraping back into power in the wake of a cliffhanger election.
Gillard, Australia’s first woman prime minister, formally returned to office nearly a week after cobbling together a wafer-thin majority with the backing of Greens and independent MPs.
“I, Julia Eileen Gillard, do solemnly and sincerely affirm and declare that I will loyally serve the Commonwealth of Australia in the office of prime minister,” she told Governor-General Quentin Bryce.
The ceremony caps weeks of drama after Gillard deposed ex-leader Kevin Rudd in a party revolt and called elections that produced the first hung parliament in decades, leaving her relying on Greens and independent MPs for support.
The unmarried former “Ten Pound Pom”, who arrived from Wales as a child in 1966, was flanked by ex-hairdresser partner Tim Mathieson and her deputy, Treasurer Wayne Swan, as she took the oath.
Gillard’s first cabinet as an elected leader, which was due to be sworn in later, contains potential divisions with Rudd sitting alongside party powerbrokers credited with orchestrating his sudden and surprising demise.
The prime minister was forced into a late change just hours before the oath-taking 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.
Gillard controls just 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.”
Gillard sensationally ousted 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.