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Australia’s Rudd makes global warming a priority

By Rohan Sullivan (Associated Press) - November 25, 2007

Newly elected leader Kevin Rudd moved quickly Sunday to bring Australia into international talks on fighting global warming, and to head off potentially thorny relations with the United States and key Asian neighbors.

The emphatic victory for Rudd’s Labor Party swings Australia toward the political left after almost 12 years of conservative rule, and puts it at odds with key security ally Washington on two crucial policy issues — Iraq and global warming.

The day after sweeping to power in general elections, Rudd went straight into work mode, holding meetings with government officials about the mechanics of signing the Kyoto Protocol on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

He also took phone calls from foreign leaders highly relevant to Australia.

Britain, New Zealand and Indonesia noted that Rudd’s election would boost international efforts to address climate change — ousted Prime Minister John Howard had refused to sign the Kyoto pact.

Malaysia’s leader said Rudd’s plan to pull Australia’s 550 combat troops from Iraq would also improve the country’s international standing, the Malaysian national news agency Bernama reported.

Rudd spoke by phone with President Bush late Saturday. Rudd declined to give details of the conversation, but said he plans to visit Washington next year.

The leaders agreed during the call that they looked forward to working together, said White House National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe.

Rudd, a Chinese-speaking former diplomat, also talked with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, accepting his invitation to attend a December U.N. meeting in Bali to map out the world’s next steps against climate change.

On Sunday, at his first news conference, Rudd promised “action, and action now” on climate change and nominated education, health and a high-speed Internet network as other top priorities of his government. He said Labor lawmakers were due to meet on Thursday, and he hoped his Cabinet would be sworn in soon after that.

Rudd’s election brought a sharp and mortifying end to the 11-year rule of Howard, Australia’s second-longest serving leader and a strong ally of Bush. Howard also faces the possible embarrassment of losing his own district seat in Parliament — a fate suffered only once before by a sitting prime minister in 106 years of federal government.

Howard, who reshaped Australia’s image abroad with his unwavering support for the U.S. war on terrorism and in Iraq, failed to read the signs that voters had grown tired of his rule.

But aside from Iraq and Kyoto, the bulk of Australia’s foreign, trade and economic policies are not expected to change much under Rudd.

“The Australian people have decided that we as a nation will move forward,” Rudd said in a victory speech late Saturday. “To embrace the future and together as Australians to unite and write a new page in our nation’s history.”

With 75 percent of the more than 13.5 million ballots counted, Labor had won more than 53 percent of the vote and a clear majority of at least 83 places in Parliament’s 150-seat lower house, official Australian Electoral Commission results showed.

Howard’s Liberal-National coalition had 46.6 percent of the vote, and 47 parliamentary seats. Howard’s district of Bennelong hung in the balance, with the final outcome to be decided by postal votes to be counted in the next few days.

Howard had campaigned on his economic management, arguing that Rudd could not be trusted to continue Australia’s 17 years of unbroken economic growth, fueled by China’s and India’s hunger for Australian coal and other minerals.

Rudd, 50, had argued that Howard, at 68, was out of ideas.