New Australian PM signals Iraq pullout

Australia’s new prime minister Kevin Rudd will mark his arrival on the international stage by announcing the withdrawal of his country’s combat troops from Iraq and signing the Kyoto treaty on climate change.

Rudd, a republican and former diplomat, swept to power as his Labor party stormed to a landslide victory in yesterday’s elections.

Official figures showed Labor had won more than 53% of the vote, compared with just under 47% for the ruling Liberal coalition of John Howard, who had served four terms as prime minister but lost his seat. Computer projections forecast that Labor would secure 86 seats in the 150-seat lower house of parliament.

Rudd, 50, who has been called a “Tone Clone” for his similarities to Tony Blair on policy, told cheering supporters that the electorate had decided to “write a new page in our nation’s history”.

Howard, who dominated Australia’s political scene for more than a decade, was accused of misreading the mood of voters who wanted change despite a booming economy.

Clearly shaken by the scale of the defeat Howard, 68, told demoralised supporters that he may soon retire. “This is a great democracy and I want to wish Mr Rudd well,” Howard said. “We bequeath to him a nation that is stronger and prouder and more prosperous than it was 11½ years ago.”

While Howard is a monarchist, Rudd favours a plebiscite on the question of whether the Queen should remain head of state. As one of his first acts, Rudd plans to bring home most Australian troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, both deeply unpopular wars.

Gordon Brown telephoned from the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Kampala, the Ugandan capital, to congratulate Rudd, who emphasised his determination to reverse Australia’s long-standing resistance to the Kyoto treaty and told Brown he would work hard to achieve a fresh agreement at an international climate change conference in Bali next month.

Rudd’s deputy prime minister will be Julia Gillard, 46, who emigrated with her parents from Barry, South Glamorgan, 41 years ago.

The daughter of a retired policeman, she trained as a lawyer and first came to public attention as leader of the Australian Union of Students. She is now the most powerful woman in Australian politics.