Brisbane: Australia’s new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, made climate change his top priority on Sunday, seeking advice on ratifying the Kyoto pact and telling Indonesia he will go to December’s UN climate summit in Bali.
Rudd, who swept aside 11 years of conservative rule by John Howard in Saturday elections, also spoke to US President George W. Bush by phone, but would not say when he planned to start a promised withdrawal of 500 Australian troops from Iraq.
“I emphasized to President Bush the centrality of the US alliance in our approach to foreign policy,” Rudd said in his first media conference on Sunday as prime minister-elect, adding he would visit Washington, DC early next year.
Rudd, 50, presented himself to voters as a new generation leader by promising to pull troops out of Iraq and ratify the Kyoto Protocol, capping greenhouse gas emissions, further isolating Washington on both issues.
But while he intends to immediately overturn Howard’s opposition to the Kyoto pact, Rudd has said he would negotiate a gradual withdrawal of forces from Iraq.
Rudd, a Mandarin-speaking former diplomat, said he discussed Kyoto ratification with his British counterpart Gordon Brown, as well as Indonesia’s President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
“President Yudhoyono formally invited me to attend the Bali conference, which will of course deal with climate change and where we go to now on Kyoto,” Rudd said. “I responded positively.”
Rudd, a staunch Christian, attended church on Sunday and planned talks with officials and advisers about administrative arrangements for ratification of Kyoto as soon as possible. The surge in voter support to Labor left Howard’s Liberal Party in a disarray, with up to six conservative ministers, including Howard, likely to lose their seats in only the sixth change of government since World War II.
Howard was in line to become the first prime minister in Australia since 1929 to lose his own constituency.
Compounding the Liberal Party’s problems, Howard’s heir apparent Peter Costello said he would not seek party leadership. Labor is set to hold up to 86 seats in the 150-seat Parliament and Rudd said he would name a cabinet later in the week.
Rudd is expected to forge closer ties with China and other Asian nations and has said he wants a more independent voice in foreign policy.
China’s official Xinhua news agency on Sunday carried reports of Rudd greeting Chinese President Hu Jintao in fluent Mandarin in September and of his posting to China in the 1980s.
“This period of history gave him close contact with China and a chance to observe and understand China’s politics, economy and culture,” the report said.