Incoming prime minister Anthony Albanese vowed to reset Australia’s relations with the world and sweep aside the country’s reputation as a climate laggard Sunday, as he raced to form a government in time for a key Tokyo summit.
Fresh from a victory that ended a decade of continuous conservative rule, Albanese signalled an era of fairer, greener and less pugilistic politics for Australia.
“I do want to change the country,” he said as he waited to see whether his Labor party can command a majority in parliament or will need help from climate-minded independents.
Under conservative leadership, the country — already one of the world’s largest gas and coal exporters — has also become synonymous with playing the spoiler at international climate talks.
He and key ministers are expected to be sworn in on Monday, just in time to attend a summit with Japanese, Indian and US leaders — the so-called Quad.
“There will be some changes in policy, particularly with regard to climate change and our engagement with the world on those issues.”
“I will return to Australia on Wednesday, and then we’ll get down to business,” he added.
“Of your many promises to support the Pacific, none is more welcome than your plan to put the climate first –– our people’s shared future depends on it,” said Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama.
– Political earthquake –
For many Australians, the election was a referendum on polarising outgoing prime minister Scott Morrison.
Morrison drew revulsion for playing down the impact of climate change on Australia’s ever-worsening disasters and insisting “I don’t hold a hose, mate” when asked to justify holidaying overseas during the bushfire crisis.
“Anyone with half a brain can see that. It’s the opposite of leadership.”
“I am very, very happy,” said Kathy Hopkins, a 60-year-old disability support worker in Sydney’s beachside suburb of Clovelly, part of what was considered an ultra-safe conservative seat.
Local voters backed one of several independent women candidates, the so-called “teals” — who ran on pro-environment, anti-corruption and pro-gender equality tickets.
Ryan said she would make demands in return for her support if Labor falls short of a majority in parliament, notably to cut carbon emissions by at least 60 percent by 2030 and to create a federal anti-corruption watchdog with teeth within six months.
Albanese has vowed to end Australia’s “climate wars”, adopt more ambitious emissions targets, introduce a federal corruption watchdog and extend to indigenous people a constitutional right to be heard on national policy-making.
But he has so far refused calls to phase out coal use, or to block the opening of new coal mines, mindful of the pro-coal and mining union factions of the Labor party.
For Morrison’s conservative allies the defeat is already spurring a battle for the soul of the party.
Speaking at his Pentecostal church on Sunday, Morrison tearfully told the congregation his time in the top job had “been a very difficult walk”.
The 54-year-old then pulled out his phone to conclude his speech with Bible verse.