Tue, Dec 05, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Rudd replaces Beazley as leader of Labor Party

AFP , SYDNEY

Australia's opposition Labor Party elected former diplomat Kevin Rudd as its new leader yesterday in a bold gambit to boost its chances of ousting Prime Minister John Howard in elections next year.

Rudd, 49, is the fifth Labor leader Howard has faced in the decade since his conservative coalition won power and the fourth in four years, as the center-left opposition party has been rent by bitter infighting.

At yesterday's meeting, Australian Labor Party federal politicians voted 49-39 to dump incumbent leader Kim Beazley, who had failed to put a dent in Howard's popularity.

Rudd, 49, pledged to end the rhetoric and "short-termism" of Australian politics, saying the country faced stark choices because of Howard's policies.

"This fork in the road has emerged because John Howard has taken a bridge too far in industrial relations, a bridge too far in Iraq, a bridge too far on climate change," Rudd said.

Rudd, 49, was elected to federal parliament in 1998 after working for the state Labor government in Queensland. He also had a lengthy career as a diplomat, with postings to Stockholm and Beijing.

A fluent Chinese speaker, he also worked as a China consultant to Australian companies between the various stages of his political career.

Slightly-built, impeccably suited and bespectacled, Rudd has been nicknamed "Harry Potter" and "Pixie" in Canberra, where some pundits claim he lacks the common touch the Australian public normally demands in its leaders.

But he has described himself as a "very determined bastard" with the steel needed to unseat Howard.

Rudd endured a tough childhood: he was temporarily forced to sleep in a car at the age of 11 when his family was evicted from their farm following the death of his father in a road accident.

Howard, who beat Rudd's predecessor Beazley in elections in 1998 and 2001, accused the new leader of being more style than substance.

"The Labor Party has reshackled itself to the past today," Howard said. "Kevin Rudd has said that he's taking Australia back to a union-dominated past."

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