Signing the Kyoto Protocol on climate change topped the world agenda for incoming Australian leader Kevin Rudd as he knuckled down to work yesterday after sweeping to power at weekend elections.
Rudd, whose victory ended almost 12 years of conservative rule in Australia, also started work on domestic issues including his goal of providing a computer for every secondary school student and redrafting the nation's labor laws.
He also confirmed he would apologize to the Aborigines on behalf of all Australians for past policies that have helped make the continent's original inhabitants its most impoverished minority -- a highly emotional issue that has divided Australians in the past.
Outgoing Prime Minister John Howard angered many of Australia's 450,000 Aborigines and their supporters by steadfastly refusing to offer an official apology, arguing this generation should not feel guilty for the mistakes of the past.
Polls show most people support an apology, and Rudd had promised to do so if he was elected. Without naming a date, Rudd said yesterday he would make the apology early in his first term.
Rudd held a second day of meetings yesterday with senior bureaucrats and top advisers about taking over the levers of power, with the formalities of changing government scheduled later this week.
He was scheduled to meet freshly elected lawmakers from his Labor Party on Thursday to choose his ministerial team, which would be sworn in by Governor-General Michael Jefferey within a few days. The government is in caretaker mode until then.
Deputy Labor leader Julia Gillard said yesterday that Rudd would act quickly on signing the Kyoto pact, paving the way for Australia to have a greater role at a major international meeting on tackling the problem in Indonesia starting next week.
Gillard will become Australia's most senior woman politician ever when she is sworn in as deputy prime minister, a role that will make her acting leader of the country when Rudd is overseas or on leave.
The prime minister-elect took phone calls from US President George W. Bush, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono during the weekend and received congratulatory messages from other foreign leaders.
Rudd's policy on Kyoto leaves the US isolated as the only Western country not to ratify the pact. His plan for the phased withdrawal of Australia's 550 combat troops from Iraq also poses challenges for Canberra's relations with Washington.
Rudd declined to give details of his conversation with Bush and said he planned to visit Washington next year. The leaders agreed during the call that they looked forward to working together, White House National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.
Financial markets reacted favorably to Rudd's election, with investors glad to have the question of who would be in power resolved.
"The market is set up today with the election uncertainty out of the road," Craig James, chief equities economist at Commonwealth Securities, told Dow Jones Newswires after shares opened 1.4 percent higher yesterday.
Sticking to domestic issues at a news conference yesterday, Rudd said implementing his policies on education and health were his top priorities, and that he had ordered every incoming Labor legislator to visit two schools before Thursday's party meeting.