Gillard to remain PM with leadership vote win

Melbourne: Julia Gillard, Australia`s first woman prime minister, won an emphatic yes vote from her Labor peers today, convincingly crushing her predecessor Kevin Rudd`s hopes of bouncing back, in a leadership ballot that settles the two-year-old political drama in the ruling party.

Handing a resounding 71 to 31 votes defeat to Rudd, whom she had overthrown in a party coup in 2010, Gillard declared that the row was over and it was time to get on with the job. "I can assure you that this political drama is over," Gillard told a news conference after the vote – the biggest win in a Labor leadership ballot in 30 years – that ensured she would remain prime minister.

With the win in the 103-member Labor party caucus, Gillard ended Rudd`s hopes of returning as prime minister any time before the General Elections next year.

However, the ballot is bound to leave a trail of division and infighting within the party and despite a huge margin of victory, the Prime Minister now faces a tough challenge to heal her divided party that has to face an election in 2013.

It is notable that when Rudd resigned as foreign minister to mount a challenge to Gillard`s leadership last week, at least five members of Gillard`s cabinet had supported him. "Impatience is what I feel, I`m restless to get on with it… I intend to be a forthright advocate for the Government`s policies. So settle in," Gillard said.

She also made it a point to pay her tribute to the contributions of Rudd, saying "we we must honour him and his many achievements as Prime Minister".

Rudd, on his part, congratulated Gillard and accepted the Labor caucus` verdict "without qualification and rancour".

Gillard and Rudd shook hands and spoke after the ballot result was announced.

In a composed statement, unlike his teary farewell in 2010, Rudd said he bore no grudges. "I bear no one any malice, and if I have done wrong to anyone in what I`ve said or in what I`ve done, to them I apologise. Time, in fact it`s well past time, for these wounds to heal. Because what we in this Government and this party and this movement are wedded to is a higher purpose. Our purpose is to serve the nation, not ourselves," he said, and left without taking any questions.

Gillard said she understood the frustration Australians might have felt witnessing the ruling party in an inward focus and promised to fully turn her energies out for the people.

Earlier, announcing the result, returning officer Chris Hayes said Rudd had made it clear he would now unite behind Gillard. "I think the Prime Minister`s now been shown the overwhelming support of Caucus," Hayes said.

"… He made it very clear to Caucus that depending on what the result was he was happy to support and work towards a unified Labor team."

With the vote, Rudd will now move to the backbench with a promise of not mounting another challenge for the Labor leadership, while Gillard will fill the vacant foreign minister`s spot on the frontbench.