6 December 2007 Edition
INTERNATIONAL: Election defeat for Oz's right-wing Prime Minister, John Howard
Rudd promises to steer new course for Australia
BY BRENDAN KERR
AUSTRALIA’S 11 years of conservative rule under the right-wing John Howard officially ended on Monday when the centre-left Australian Labour Party leader Kevin Rudd was sworn in as the country’s new prime minister, nine days after a landslide election victory.
In his first act as Prime Minister, Rudd ratified the Kyoto Protocol, leaving the United States as the only major country not signed up to the treaty to combat climate change. Rudd’s Cabinet includes the former lead singer of rock band Midnight Oil, Peter Garrett, as his Minister for Environment, Heritage and Arts.
Before his formal swearing in, Rudd had outlined his vision for a more compassionate Australia with better conditions for workers, homeless people and the country’s indigenous population, the Aborigines.
John Howard, a Thatcherite opponent of trade unionism and a staunch ally of George W Bush, wholeheartedly backed the occupation in Iraq with more than 500 Australian combat troops, including the SAS. His defeat was hailed by community groups and trade union, progressive and anti-war activists.
Rudd is Australia’s 26th prime minister. He’s the son of a tenant farmer who died when he was 11. His family consequently had to leave the farm and he says that he remembers sleeping in a car while his mother looked for somewhere for him and his three siblings to stay.
In his first speech to parliament, he said:
“My mother, like thousands of others, was left to rely on the bleak charity of the time to raise a family. It made me think that a decent social security system designed to protect the weak was no bad thing.”
A former ambassador to China and Sweden, he is a committed Christian (he is lampooned by some of the media as “a nerd”) and he is firmly opposed to same-sex civil unions. He was first elected an as MP in 1998 and became leader of the Labour Party only in December of last year.
Labour’s new intake of MPs includes a number of high-profile trade unionists. The party campaign included a package of measures, under the banner of ‘Forward with Fairness’, which promised collective bargaining for the trade unions and a safety net to safeguard workers’ wages and conditions.
Voters are looking for movement on Australian Labour’s promise to bring home the country’s 1,050 troops from Iraq in a phased withdrawal even though Rudd is keen to otherwise maintain friendly relations with “our great friend and ally, the United States”.
And in another clear sign that things are going to be much different in some areas, Rudd said that he would be apologising early in the new parliament to the country’s Aboriginal people for past injustices. Howard had refused point-blank to indicate any remorse for the forced removal of Aboriginal children fostered to white families in a scandal that has given these children the title of ‘The Stolen Generation’. (When new Environment Minister Peter Garrett’s Midnight Oil performed at the closing ceremony of the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, in the presence of John Howard, they famously wore black tracksuits bearing the word “Sorry” in protest at his government’s refusal to apologise for ‘The Stolen Generation’.)
Rudd has told all Labour MPs and senators to each visit two local schools and report back on how many computers they have. They were also instructed to visit a homeless shelter and find out how many people are being refused accommodation every night of the week after claims that turnaway rates are between 80 per cent and 90 per cent. “This is just wrong in a country as wealthy as ours,” the new prime minister said.
His predecessor, John Howard, was an unashamed reactionary. George W Bush described him as an “Iron Man”. Howard brought in laws making it easier for employers to hire and fire staff and cut pay rates and conditions under the misnamed WorkChoices programme.
A political soul mate of George W Bush, Howard caused outrage in the United States in February of this year when he said in an Australian TV interview that Al-Qaeda wanted the Democrats – Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton or any other Democrat – in the White House.
“I mean, if I were running Al-Qaeda in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008 and pray as many times as possible for a victory not only for Obama but also for the Democrats,” the then Prime Minister of Australia said.
Maybe John Howard should have prayed for his own election victory.
International News in Brief
Poll setback for Chavez
VENEZUELAN President Hugo Chavez has narrowly lost a referendum on controversial constitutional changes. This is the first time that Chavez loses a vote in the country since his election in 1998.
Voters rejected constitutional reforms – which included allowing a president to stand indefinitely for re-election – by 51 per cent of the vote to 49 per cent. Chavez has accepted the result and he urged his followers to remain calm.
Chad rebels attack army
JUST after the Irish Government announced it is postponing sending troops to Chad as part of the European Rapid Reaction Force due to lack of military support by other European states, Chad’s army clashed with Rally of Forces for Change rebels.
The RFC said government forces attacked their positions in an area about 150km north of Abeche, in eastern Chad.
The rebels claim that, after a two-hour battle, they seized a number of officers and 30 army vehicles.
US admits Iran halted nuclear moves in 2003
THE declassified summary of a report which draws information from America’s 16 intelligence agencies admits that Tehran halted its nuclear weapons programme in 2003.
The report says Iran appears “less determined” to develop nuclear weapons than previously thought. The question is, why was – and is – Washington pressing for further sanctions and even military action against the country if the content of this report was already known by the Bush administration?