Labor Party Wins Big in Australia

By ROHAN SULLIVAN – Nov 24 2007

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) ­ Labor Party leader Kevin
Rudd swept to power in Australian elections
Saturday, ending an 11-year conservative era and
promising major changes to policies on global
warming and his country’s role in the Iraq war.

The win marked a humiliating end to the career of
outgoing Prime Minister John Howard, who became
Australia’s second-longest serving leader ­ and
who had appeared almost unassailable as little as a year ago.

In a nationally televised concession speech,
Howard announced he had phoned Rudd to
congratulate him on “a very emphatic victory.”

“I accept full responsibility for the Liberal
Party campaign, and I therefore accept full
responsibility for the coalition’s defeat in this
election campaign,” Howard said.

Howard was also in danger of becoming only the
second sitting prime minister in 106 years of
federal government to lose his seat in Parliament.

Official figures from the Australian Electoral
Commission showed Labor well ahead with more than
60 percent of the ballots counted. An Australian
Broadcasting Corp. analysis showed that Labor
would get at least 81 places in the 150-seat
lower house of Parliament ­ a clear majority.

ABC radio reported that Howard aides said the
prime minister had phoned Rudd to concede defeat.
Rudd was expected to formally claim victory later Saturday.

The change in government from Howard’s
center-right Liberal-National Party coalition to
the center-left Labor Party also marks a generational shift for Australia.

Rudd, a 50-year-old former diplomat who speaks
fluent Chinese, urged voters to support him
because Howard was out of touch with modern
Australia and ill-equipped to deal with new-age issues such as climate change.

Howard campaigned on his economic management,
arguing that his government was mostly
responsible for 17 years of unbroken growth,
fueled by China’s and India’s hunger for
Australia’s coal and other minerals, and that
Rudd could not be trusted to maintain prosperous times.

Rudd said he would withdraw Australia’s 550
combat troops from Iraq, leaving twice that
number in mostly security roles. Howard had said
all the troops will stay as long as needed.

However, a new government is unlikely to mean a
major change in Australia’s foreign relations,
including with the United States ­ its most
important security partner ­ or with Asia, which
is increasingly important for the economy.

But one of the biggest changes will be in
Australia’s approach to climate change. Rudd has
nominated the issue as his top priority, and
promises to immediately sign the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions.

When he does so, the United States will stand
alone as the only industrialized country not to have signed the pact.

Labor has been out of power for more than a
decade, and few in Rudd’s team ­ including him ­
has any government experience at federal level.
His team includes a former rock star ­ Midnight
Oil singer Peter Garrett ­ and a swag of former union officials.

But analysts say his foreign policy credentials
are impeccable, and that he has shown discipline
and political skill since his election as Labor leader 11 months ago.

Rudd’s election as Labor leader marked the start
of Howard’s decline in opinion polls, from which he never recovered.

Howard’s four straight election victories since
1996 made him one of Australia’s most successful
politicians. He refused to stand down before this
election ­ even after being urged to do by some
party colleagues. However, Howard earlier this
year announced plans to retire within about two years if he won the election.

Reporters Without Borders

23 November 2007

What the next prime minister must do to improve press freedom

On the eve of Australia’s general election,
Reporters Without Borders today called on the
next prime minister to undertake to adopt a
series of measures to improve press freedom. The organisation is seeking:

1. The adoption of a law on the protection of
sources: There have been several attempts by
judges or government officials in recent months
to get journalists to reveal their sources. Two
journalists in Perth were threatened with
imprisonment in June if they did not say who
leaked an anti-corruption commission’s
confidential report to them. The leak was the
basis for a story in The West Australian naming a
politician. Reporters Without Borders stresses
that the protection of sources is one of the key pillars of press freedom.

2. The fight against impunity in the Balibo Five
case: An inquest has just shed light on every
aspect of the murder of five journalists in
Balibo, East Timor, in 1975. It is now time for
justice to be done. The next government must, as
a matter of urgency, do everything possible to
ensure that the Australian judicial system is
able to try the murderers and those who gave them their orders.

3. Liberalisation of the access to information
laws: The Australia’s Right to Know media
coalition’s latest report showed that a great
deal of information is not available to the media
and public. Reporters Without Borders urges the
next government to act transparently and not
obstruct access to information. Australia’s Right
to Know found a total of 1,500 pieces of
legislation and court orders restricting access to information.

Reporters Without Borders notes opposition Labour
Party leader Kevin Rudd’s promises to reinforce
access to information laws and to ensure that the
principle of professional privilege applies to
journalists. Nonetheless, Labour-governed states
Queensland and Victoria have not displayed much
respect for the principle of access to information.

The ruling Liberal-National coalition has not
given any specific undertakings but attorney
general Phillip Ruddock commissioned an enquiry
into access of information which is due to
publish its findings in December 2008. Reporters
Without Borders points out that the government
ignored the recommendations of an Australian Law
Reform Commission report 11 years ago.

4. Protection of journalists’ work under the
Privacy Law: Reporters Without Borders is worried
by some of the conclusions of a report by the
Australian Law Reform Commission in September
recommending increased protection for privacy.
Under the commission’s recommendations, citizens
could bring complaints against media without
first seeking arbitration by the Press Council.

Reporters Without Borders obviously supports the
protection of privacy, but it does not think this
should not prevent journalists from working and
reporting freely about public figures.

5. The revision of certain provisions of the
anti-terrorism and interception of
telecommunications laws: Some of the articles of
these laws threaten the confidentiality of
journalists’ sources. The procedures for tapping
phones can jeopardise the independence of the
media when they are covering terrorism and
organised crime, while some of the penalties
under the anti-terrorism laws are simply outrageous.

Anyone, including a journalist, who contacts a
terrorism suspect can be jailed for five years.
Journalists can be arrested for publishing the
names of terrorism suspects. Reporters do not
have the right to refuse to identify their
sources in terrorism cases. And the police have
the right to search news media for evidence in such cases.

The Australian Anti-Terrorism Act 2005 also
provides for prison sentences for any person
inciting others to disobey Australian law. Former
Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser described it as
rolling back several centuries of progress in human rights.


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