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Weather Trumps War As Australian Labor Eyes Victory

Kevin Rudd said Labor would not win the elections by simply attacking the government, and spelled out a series of policy initiatives which he said would maintain Australia's prosperity while ensuring "a fair go" for all.
by Lawrence Bartlett
Sydney (AFP) April 27, 2007
Australia's resurgent centre-left Labor Party Friday targeted the government's record on the Iraq war and climate change at a national conference ahead of elections it is tipped to win this year. Popular new leader Kevin Rudd, 49, swept into the conference hall to a standing ovation from a party faithful scenting victory and the upbeat tempo of a specially-commissioned song -- "A change in the weather".

Opinion polls since Rudd's election as Labor leader last December have consistently shown him and his party well ahead of Prime Minister John Howard, 67, and the governing conservative Liberal-National coalition.

Rudd, a fresh-faced former diplomat who served in China and speaks Mandarin, attacked Howard, a close ally of US President George W. Bush, as "increasingly arrogant and out of touch" after 11 years in power.

"When I look to the next decade, the future that I see for Australia is one fundamentally shaped by the rise of China and the rise of India," he said.

"The future I see for Australia I also see shaped by the rise of militant Islamism -- not just in the Middle East but also in Islamic South East Asia."

Australia's involvement in the Iraq war was the country's worst foreign policy decision since it entered the Vietnam war, he said. Labor has vowed to withdraw Australia's 1,400 troops from Iraq operations if it wins power.

But with a relatively small number of soldiers in Iraq and no deaths from enemy action, Iraq is not as big an election issue in Australia as it is in the United States and Britain.

Instead, Rudd focused on climate change, an increasingly hot political topic as Australia faces its worst drought on record.

Apart from Bush, Howard is the only leader of a major developed nation who has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, and Rudd accused him of being more than a climate change sceptic.

"Mr Howard is a climate change denier," he said.

"This is the modern equivalent of arguing that the earth is flat and that NASA faked the moon landing and that Elvis is out there somewhere still flipping burgers in Florida.

"That's how in touch with reality Mr Howard is on this one."

But Rudd said Labor would not win the elections by simply attacking the government, and spelled out a series of policy initiatives which he said would maintain Australia's prosperity while ensuring "a fair go" for all.

Howard has acknowledged that he faces a major fight to win a fifth term in office in elections due by the end of the year, but has publicly pegged his hopes for re-election on the booming economy.

Among Rudd's initiatives was a pledge to repeal new labour legislation pushed through by the government, which critics say strips power from unions and erodes job security, wages and conditions.

He has, however, said a Labor government would not be held hostage by its traditional supporters in the unions and would govern for all Australians.

Calling delegates "friends" rather than the traditional "comrades" and flanked by the party's new slogan -- "Fresh thinking" -- Rudd invited comparisons with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Under Blair's leadership the British Labour Party reinvented itself as "New Labour", moved towards the political centre and won a landslide victory in 1997, ending 18 years of rule by the Conservatives.

But Rudd was careful to avoid taking victory for granted, describing Howard as "the most clever politician this country has seen in a generation."

"(He is) prepared to do anything and say anything in the months before an election, in order to cling on to power," he said.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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