November 26, 2007 (Guardian UK) – Australia’s prime minister-elect, Kevin Rudd, moved swiftly yesterday on an election promise to make climate change a priority, marking a significant shift in his country’s attitude towards fighting global warming.
The Labor leader, who ended 11 years of conservative rule in a decisive election win on Saturday, held meetings with government officials about signing the Kyoto pact on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, the treaty that his predecessor, John Howard, refused to endorse.
Rudd also confirmed he would attend the forthcoming UN climate summit in Bali and said he had already discussed Kyoto ratification and other climate change issues with Gordon Brown and Indonesia’s president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
By announcing at the first news conference since his election triumph his intention to immediately sign the Kyoto pact, Rudd made it clear that a new man with new ideas is at the helm. He said education, health, industrial relations, childcare, broadband access and managing Australia’s water needs would be his priorities on the domestic front.
“Everyone’s going to have their hands well and truly full,” Rudd said of the people who will be in his government.
The 50-year-old said the make-up of his cabinet would be revealed this week.
He also said that he had spoken by phone to the US president, George Bush, but would not be drawn on the specifics of the conversation and whether the two men discussed a promised withdrawal of Australia’s 500 combat troops from Iraq. “I emphasised to President Bush the centrality of the US alliance in our approach to foreign policy,” Rudd said.
Australia is still digesting the scale of Rudd’s victory, which saw Howard and his Liberal party coalition annihilated at the polls. According to the Australian Electoral Commission, with 76% of votes counted Labor had a swing of 6%, giving it 83 seats in the 150-seat parliament, up 23 on the last election. The Liberals have 48 seats, down from 74.
Seven seats are undecided, including Howard’s. He seems almost certain to become the first sitting prime minister since Stanley Bruce in 1929 to suffer the humiliation of losing his seat. Postal votes will decide the matter, but Howard has said it is likely he will lose Bennelong, which he has held for 33 years, to Labor’s Maxine McKew, a former TV journalist.
Glum Liberals have been holding an inquest, with senior members of the party saying that it had been hard for the conservative government to present itself as energetic and fresh after more than 11 years, despite 16 years of economic expansion and unemployment at 33-year lows.
Adding to their woes, outgoing treasurer Peter Costello, who had been tipped to take the reins of the party, announced that he did not want the job. “It’s time for generational change,” he said, signalling a leadership race.
The Liberals will have a senate majority until next July, possibly delaying some of Rudd’s agenda, including his promise to dump unpopular labour laws.