Australian PM to Leave APEC Early After Father's Death

by
staff
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard Saturday said she would leave APEC talks in Russia early because her elderly father had passed away at home.

"He has battled illness in recent years but his death is a shock for me and my family," Julia Gillard said

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard Saturday said she would leave APEC talks in Russia early because her elderly father had passed away at home.

In a statement, the prime minister said John Gillard died on Saturday morning in Adelaide and she planned to travel home as soon as possible "to grieve with my family". He was 93.

"He has battled illness in recent years but his death is a shock for me and my family," she said.

Gillard arrived in the eastern city of Vladivostok on Friday night for the high-level talks but failed to attend the opening session of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders meet, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin explained Gillard's absence.

"One of our colleagues, the Australian prime minister, has had a very unfortunate tragedy in her family," Putin said.

"Her father passed away, so I would like, on behalf of all of us, to express condolences to her and her entire family."

Trade Minister Craig Emerson, who was already in Vladivostok, will now take Gillard's place in the remaining APEC forums on Saturday and Sunday.

Earlier in the day, Gillard had met with Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O'Neill and agreed to a memorandum of understanding on PNG processing asylum-seekers arriving by boat in Australia.

The arrangement is one of several regional agreements the government is hoping to implement to deter refugees from making the dangerous sea journey to Australia and prevent more people from dying en route at sea.

Gillard also held a bilateral meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak which had been expected to discuss a proposed deal under which Australia could transfer boatpeople to the Asian country in exchange for resettling thousands of their registered refugees.

On her arrival in Vladivostok, Gillard said that she was keen to discuss higher education at the APEC meeting, particularly the ability of Australian universities and researchers "to move more freely across the region".

Education is a key focus on the prime minister, and the Labor leader has often spoken of her family and the benefit of the schooling she received in Australia.

In her statement, Gillard said he father had always regretted that his family background meant he had not proceeded on to higher education as a young man.

"He was determined that I had the opportunities he was denied," she said.

John Gillard and wife Moira emigrated to Australia from Wales in 1966 under the "Ten Pound Pom" scheme, bringing with them the toddler who would become the nation's first woman prime minister.

Gillard said that her father, who worked as a psychiatric nurse in Australia, had been her inspiration.

"He was brought up in a coal mining village and left school at 14, but transcended these humble beginnings to become a man with a love of ideas, political debate and poetry," she said.

"He taught me that nothing comes without hard work and demonstrated to me what hard work meant as a shift worker with two jobs.

"He taught me to be passionate about fairness. He taught me to believe in Labor and in trade unionism. But above all, he taught me to love learning and to understand its power to change lives."