Australia’s Prime Minister-elect Kevin Rudd arrived in the nation’s capital on Wednesday to choose his new Cabinet, aides said, as outgoing John Howard and his vanquished team cleared out their desks.
Rudd (50) stormed to power in a landslide election victory on Saturday that wiped out Howard’s conservative government after almost 12 years in office and set Australia on a new course in foreign and domestic policy.
The centre-left Labour Party leader arrived in Canberra for the first time since the victory to select his first Cabinet, which was expected to be announced on Thursday or Friday and sworn in by Monday.
”We will discuss the ministry tomorrow [Thursday],” said a Rudd aide who requested anonymity. ”We are still working on details of when the swearing in will take place.”
For the first time, Rudd flew into the capital on a Royal Australian Air Force jet reserved for the prime minister and top officials, television pictures showed.
Rudd has pledged to unveil his Cabinet after the Labor Party caucus meets on Thursday, but has been tight-lipped about the line-up.
Howard — one of conservative United States President George Bush’s closest allies in the Iraq war and in opposition to ratifying the Kyoto Protocol on climate change — and his former ministers Wednesday cleaned out their offices to make way for their successors.
Howard, who has kept a low profile since his concession speech, spent Tuesday boxing up personal effects from his office and official residence, the Lodge, in preparation for Rudd’s arrival, news reports said.
Adding insult to the injury of Howard’s defeat, he has almost certainly also lost his electoral seat to a political newcomer, but votes were still being counted.
Howard (68), who will officially remain caretaker prime minister until Rudd is sworn in, Wednesday hosted his former team to a final lunch at the Lodge that was dubbed by media as the ”last supper”.
Rudd came to power on a wave of public discontent with Howard’s ”Work Choice” labour laws that reduced worker protections and over his stance on climate policy as Australians opted for change after years of the same leadership.
The former diplomat has promised to immediately repeal Howard’s labour laws and ratify the Kyoto Protocol before heading to a key United Nations-sponsored climate change conference in Bali on December 2.
Rudd could ratify Kyoto within days, said the former head of Australia’s department of environment, Roger Beale.
”Legally, all he requires is a decision by the governor general and executive council,” he said adding that he was not bound to recall Prliament over the issue as the governor general’s signature on an order would suffice.
Howard’s Liberal Party was meanwhile in tatters, with two of his senior ministers renouncing their former leader’s policies as the party prepared to meet on Thursday to elect a new leader.
In a possible sign of the discontent, outgoing treasurer Peter Costello, who had been due to succeed Howard, and former foreign minister Alexander Downer, did not attend Howard’s ”last supper” for around a dozen one-time ministers.
Two former top Howard lieutenants — ex-environment minister Malcolm Turnbull and ex-industrial relations minister Joe Hockey — said they believed some of his key policies were mistaken.
Turnbull, who is vying against former defence minister Brendan Nelson for the leadership, accused his ex-boss of getting his policy on Aboriginal reconciliation wrong.
Turnbull vowed he would say ”sorry” to the ”stolen generation” of Aboriginal children taken from their parents over a 40-year period, and said Howard’s stubborn refusal to utter the word had been a mistake.
”That was an error,” Turnbull told Australian radio, adding also that history would judge that Howard had stayed in power for too long.
”Clearly, we should have said sorry then. John got himself into a bit of [a] semantic tangle there,” he said referring to Howard’s decision to offer an apology for the policy that ended in the 1970s, but his refusal to say ”sorry”.
Hockey, whose job it was to peddle Howard’s very unpopular Work Choices laws, revealed for the first time he thought the policy was a mistake.
”The problem with Work Choices was we just went too deep,” he said.
”It was a mistake,” he said adding the election result confirmed how unpopular the policy was.
Hockey was however at loggerheads with Nelson and former health minister Tony Abbott, who unlike Hockey want the new opposition to try and prevent Rudd from repealing the labour laws, despite voters’ resounding rejection of them. – AFP