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Labor Outlines Vision for Australia After Big Election Win


Climate change, Iraq and industrial reform are emerging as priorities for Australia's new Labor government. The party swept to power after national elections that saw long-serving conservative leader John Howard dumped from office. As Phil Mercer reports from Sydney, Labor voters are still celebrating their victory.

Labor supporters have waited many years to celebrate an election victory. The last time the party won power was back in 1993.

The prime minister-elect, Kevin Rudd, has promised a more compassionate approach to government after more than a decade of John Howard's leadership.

The 68-year-old conservative leader oversaw unprecedented economic growth but many Labor voters thought he made Australia less caring.

"I think I'd like to see a country that's a bit more confident in itself and a country that because it's confident in itself can afford to be generous, can afford to be outward-looking instead of inward-looking and a country that's happy to engage with the rest of the world," said one female voter.

Mr. Rudd has promised to overturn a number of his predecessor's policies, including signing the Kyoto Protocol on reducing carbon emissions and pulling troops out of Iraq.

The 50-year-old former diplomat plans to visit the United States early next year and has been congratulated on his election victory by President Bush.

"I said to President Bush and I emphasized to President Bush the centrality of the U.S. alliance in our approach to our future foreign policy," he said.

Mr. Rudd and his party are expected to move carefully on Iraq and will not want to upset Australia's historically close ties with Washington.

The party won Saturday's election by promising a more compassionate approach to domestic affairs, including changing some industrial policies.

Aboriginal leaders hope their community will benefit in a range of areas, including land rights.

There will also be pressure on Mr. Rudd to change parts of controversial policies to combat high rates of child abuse in some indigenous settlements.

Radical reforms brought in by the former conservative minister Mal Brough included bans on alcohol and increased police numbers.

Many Aboriginal leaders condemned the policies as draconian and racist. Some considered the policies an attempt to take control of land held by Aboriginal communities.

Michael Mansell from the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre says the Howard government has paid for its mistakes.

"I think Aboriginal people around the country were very glad to hear that John Howard had been defeated but I think the celebrations really were the demise of both John Howard and Mal Brough," said Mansell.

Mr. Howard seems almost certain to lose his own parliamentary seat when the final votes are counted.

That would bring his 33-year political career to an end.

Many political analysts think Mr. Howard stayed on as prime minister for too long. There is a feeling the former suburban lawyer should have retired last year to give a successor time to prepare for an election.

Liberal party lawmaker Stephen Pyne says the Howard government was thrown out of office because voters thought it had become stale.

"The overwhelming reason why the Liberal party lost the election was because people wanted new leadership. They wanted a change after 11-and-a-half years," Pyne said. "The Labor party was offering new leadership, we were not and for that reason they got what they wanted and that is what democracy is all about."

Labor needed 16 seats in the 150-member House of Representatives to win power. With a handful of seats still to be declared, the Rudd government seems certain to have a majority of more than 20 seats.

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