SYDNEY, Australia – New Prime Minister Anthony Albanese pledged to end Australia’s reputation as a climate laggard and reset relations with the rest of the world on Sunday as he raced to form a government in time for a key summit in Tokyo.
Fresh off an election victory that ended a decade of Conservative rule, Albanese marked an era of fairer, greener and less pugilist politics for Australia.
“I want to change the country,” said the 59-year-old centre-left leader. “I want to change the way politics works in this country.”
It remains unclear whether Albanese Labor will win enough parliamentary seats to form an outright majority, or whether it will have to look to independents or smaller parties for support.
But “Albo” and key ministers are expected to be sworn in on Monday to attend a summit with Japanese, Indian and American leaders – the so-called Quad.
Albanese said the summit was “a top priority” for Australia and an opportunity “to send a message to the world”.
He said partners abroad can expect significant changes “particularly in relation to climate change and our engagement with the world on these issues”.
In recent years, images of smoldering eucalyptus forests, smog-shrouded cities and bleached-out coral reefs have made Australia a poster child for climate-fueled destruction.
Under conservative leadership, the country – already one of the world’s largest gas and coal exporters – has also become synonymous with spoilsport at international climate negotiations.
Albanese has pledged to adopt more ambitious emissions reduction targets and make the sunny continent-nation a renewable energy superpower.
After the summit and bilateral meetings with Quad leaders on Tuesday, Albanese said he would return to Australia on Wednesday.
“Then we will get to work,” he said.
US President Joe Biden called Albanese to congratulate him.
“President Biden expressed his deep appreciation for (Albanese’s) early commitment to the alliance, reflected in his decision to travel almost immediately to Tokyo to attend the Quad Summit,” the White House said in a statement. .
Among the foreign leaders who have hailed Albanese’s election are those of Australia’s Pacific Island neighbors, whose very existence is threatened by rising sea levels.
“Among your many pledges of support for the Pacific, none is more welcome than your plan to put climate first – the common future of our people depends on it,” said Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama.
Others will be watching closely to see if Albanese’s premiership brings a less hawkish tone on China, and if ministerial meetings with Beijing resume after a hiatus of more than two years.
– Political earthquake –
Official results showed Labor expected to win 75 seats – almost within reach of the 76 required for a majority in the 151-seat lower house. A handful of other races are still too close to call.
But it is already clear that the vote was a political earthquake in Australia.
For many Australians, the election was a referendum on the polarization of incumbent Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
His tumultuous tenure saw the country destroyed by bushfires, droughts, floods and a pandemic, all of which shattered Australia’s generally carefree sense of security and trust in government.
Morrison was disgusted for downplaying the role of climate change in Australia’s deepening disasters and insisting ‘I don’t hold a pipe, mate’ when asked to justify a vacation to overseas during the bushfire crisis.
“Being in Hawaii when half the country is burning was probably not a wise move,” said Dean Bergin, a 32-year-old investment fund manager.
“Anyone with half a brain can see it. It’s the opposite of leadership.
Voters responded at the polls with a sharp rebuke of his Liberal-National coalition – ousting top ministers from parliament and virtually expelling the party from major cities.
“I’m very, very happy,” said Kathy Hopkins, a 60-year-old disability support worker in Sydney’s seaside suburb of Clovelly, part of what was considered an ultra-safe Tory seat.
– Erasure of elections –
For Morrison’s conservative allies, the defeat is already spurring a battle for the soul of the party.
A leadership race is unofficially underway, with moderates blaming the loss on a drift to the right.
Speaking at his Pentecostal church on Sunday, Morrison tearfully told the congregation that his time in the highest office had “been a very difficult walk”.
“God is calling us” to duty, he said, stopping repeatedly to collect himself.
The 54-year-old then pulled out his phone to conclude his speech with a Bible verse.
“Do not rejoice for me, my enemy. Even if I fall, I will get up. Even though I live in darkness, the Lord is alive for me,” he said.
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