The Labor Party swept to power in today’s election in Australia, ending eleven years of rule by the center-right coalition led by the Liberals. The result is being called “a Ruddslide.” Kevin Rudd, a former diplomat, will be the nation’s next leader.
The losers in the election were the long-serving John Howard—and George W. Bush. No other national leader—not even Tony Blair—was a stauncher supporter of the American President than the now-defeated Australian prime minister. The two shared a conservative outlook on almost every matter of importance.
“Today Australia has looked to the future,” Rudd said as he claimed victory. So what does his version of the future hold for the United States? Howard famously accepted the job of America’s “deputy sheriff” in the Asia-Pacific region. Canberra under Rudd will move away from Washington. The Labor Party, for instance, will sign the Kyoto Protocol, abandoning President Bush on climate change. More important, Rudd will withdraw Australia’s 550 combat troops from Iraq (although he will keep about a thousand Australians in supporting positions in that troubled country).
Rudd, a fluent Mandarin speaker and Sinophile, will also move his nation closer to China, which has been fueling Australia’s economic boom by purchasing iron ore and coal in large quantities. The United States already has its problems in Asia, some of them self-inflicted but most caused by the Chinese. The Australian election was not a referendum on the United States, but the ignominious removal of Howard from the scene—it appears that he will be the first sitting prime minister to lose his seat in Parliament since 1929—does mean that Washington can no longer count on an important voice in this critical part of the world.