November 14, 2007 (Reuters) – Australian Labor Party leader Kevin Rudd promised A$1 billion for clean energy and closer Asian ties on Wednesday if he wins the nation’s Nov. 24 election, painting himself as a catalyst for generational change.
Rudd, holding a strong lead over conservative Prime Minister John Howard in polls, accused Howard of having no ideas ahead of his promised retirement in two years and said Australia’s respect in the world had plummeted during Howard’s 11-year rule.
Rudd officially launched his election campaign before cheering supporters in his home town of Brisbane in crucial Queensland state, with A$2.3 billion ($2 billion) of promises for families and green energy to help avert global warming.
“I am determined to make Australia part of the global climate change solution, not just part of the global climate change problem,” he told a glitzy upbeat launch before a crowd that included rock stars and three former Labor prime ministers.
Rudd, 50, a Mandarin-speaking former diplomat, has brought Labor within range of its first election win for 14 years by promising new generation leadership, with reforms to education and health and a promise to scrap unpopular workplace laws.
To help secure the 16 seats Labor needs to take government, Rudd promised education and childcare rebates, university scholarships and jobs training of 450,000 more people if he wins.
He has also promised to pull combat troops out of Iraq “who are needed much closer to home” and to sign the Kyoto climate pact, opposed by Howard because of its impact on jobs and Australia’s standing as the world’s largest coal exporter.
Australia could not continue as the world’s biggest per head greenhouse gas emitter, Rudd said, at a time when climate scientists said it was suffering “accelerated climate change” and a decade-long drought.
GREENHOUSE GAS CUTS
He repeated Labor’s commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions, blamed for global warming, by 60 percent by 2050, based on 2000 levels, but did not set an interim target for emissions cuts by 2020.
Rudd also had a veiled jab at Howard’s close friendship with United States President George W. Bush.
“I also want to ensure that Australia once again has its own voice in the affairs of the world,” he said, adding Howard did not understand the challenge of the rise of China and India.
Rudd’s campaign launch came as a Reuters analysis of published opinion polls found Labor had opened a 10.5 point lead over the conservatives 11 days before the election.
Howard told reporters that Rudd’s plans would drive up unemployment and put the economic gains of the past decade at risk.
“What was missing was a plan to keep the economy growing,” Howard said while campaigning to defend marginal conservative-held seats in the north Queensland town of Townsville.
Thousands of Australians living in Europe began voting on Wednesday, with Howard struggling to overturn a mood for change despite an economic expansion lasting 16 years and unemployment at 33-year lows.
In a bid to counter voter perceptions of Howard as a better economic manager, Labor is aiming to spend less than the A$62 billion promised by the government during the campaign.
“I am saying loud and clear that this sort of reckless spending must stop,” Rudd said, pointing to inflation around 3 percent and a string of six central bank interest rate hikes. Labor’s promises totalled about A$44 billion.