New Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has vowed to sign a global pact on climate change and to negotiate to withdraw frontline troops from Iraq after an emphatic national election win on the weekend.
The Labor leader ascended to the nation's top post after his party secured a majority of 24 in the country's 150-seat lower house to oust long-serving conservative leader John Howard, a staunch ally of U.S. President George W. Bush, in Saturday's Federal ballot.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao sent a message of congratulations to Rudd Sunday.
A national swing of about 5.5 percent delivered the formidable majority to Rudd's center-left party after the Liberal-National coalition led by Howard, 68, had held a 16-seat advantage ahead of the poll.
"Today, Australia has looked to the future," Rudd, Australia's 26th prime minister, said during his acceptance speech in his home city of Brisbane in the northern state of Queensland Saturday night.
"Today, the Australian people have decided we as a nation will move forward, to plan for the future, to embrace the future and, together as Australians, to unite and write a new page in our nation's history.
"I say to all those who have voted for us today, I say to each and every one of them that I will be a prime minister for all Australians."
Ratifying the Kyoto Protocol on limiting carbon emissions - which the United States has also refused to sign - withdrawing Australia's frontline troops from Iraq and scrapping the Howard government's controversial industrial relations legislation were high on Rudd's list of priorities at his first press conference as national leader Sunday.
Earlier, the honors graduate in Putonghua and devout Christian attended mass with his family.
Rudd, who served as first secretary at the Australian embassy in Beijing in the 1980s, first struck a chord with voters earlier in the year by proposing to upgrade Australia's substandard broadband Internet capability.
This contrasted his "new-leadership" election pitch with the status quo outlook of Howard's government, which only attacked Rudd's plans to fund the popular project.
Rudd, 50, followed up the broadband initiative during the six-week election campaign with a promise to focus on information technology and foreign languages, especially Asian, to revolutionize the country's education system.
In a further blow to Howard, voters appear to have endorsed a former journalist over the grandfather to make him just the second Australian prime minister to lose his seat. Howard had represented the Sydney electorate of Bennelong for the past 34 years.
"I accept full responsibility for the coalition's defeat in this campaign," Howard said during his concession speech at the same Sydney hotel where he had celebrated four previous triumphs.
Defending his reign, the second longest in Australia's history, the former Sydney lawyer noted he and his deputy, Treasurer Peter Costello, had turned the deficit left by previous Labor governments into a surplus, presided over consistent economic growth and reduced unemployment to at a 33-year low.
"I leave the office of prime minister with our country prouder, stronger and more prosperous than ever," Howard said shortly before Costello informed him that he, too, would exit politics.
Besides his failure to match Rudd's progressive plans on information technology and commitment to ratifying Kyoto, Howard's chief undoing lay in the issue he had championed his entire career: Industrial relations.
After winning control of the upper house of parliament in the 2004 poll, his government reformed Australia's labor market to empower employers at the expense of workers' benefits such as protection against unfair dismissal and penalty rates.
This policy saw members of parliament, especially those in marginal seats, inundated with letters from disgruntled constituents and generated a desire for a shift back to the economic center.
Rudd staved off coalition efforts to portray him as subordinate to once-powerful labor unions and sugestions Australia's 16 years of uninterrupted growth would shudder to a halt if he tore up Howard's much maligned "Work choices" legislation.
After appointing his Cabinet ministers later this week, which is tipped to include a foreign minister who has pledged to foster closer sporting and cultural links between Australia and China, Rudd will get straight to work implementing his campaign promises including leading a delegation to a UN climate change conference in Indonesia next month.
Among his campaign commitments was the promise to withdraw Australian troops from frontline duty in Iraq, no doubt a thorny issue when Bush phoned to congratulate him Sunday.
"I emphasized to President Bush the centrality of the U.S. alliance in our approach to foreign policy," Rudd said without setting a date for withdrawal.
(China Daily via agencies November 26, 2007)