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Australia Heralds in a New Labor Era

There wasn't much doubt by the end of last week that come late Saturday evening, Australia would indeed see a new Prime Minister and a Labor win. But few suspected the bloodbath, John Howard's ruling Coalition government of 11 solid years would suffer.

KEVIN RUDD
Lauren Victoria Burke
KEVIN RUDD

With 75% of all votes counted, Labor was on track to win at least 80 of the 150 seats in Parliament's House of Representatives, where governments are formed, compared with just 60 in the last election in 2004.

I attended the Labor Party electoral night, at a sports stadium in Brisbane, together with 500 rank and file party members and media from around the world. Kevin Rudd, known as "Kevin 07" waited in an ante-room nearby as he watched television coverage of the vote count.

Television reporters from South East Asia up-linked to their networks as it became more and more clear that not only would the government change, but that Prime Minister Howard would quite likely lose his own seat.

At the same time, the government's election party at a five-star Sydney hotel featured champagne and canapés all hosted by the government. In Brisbane though -- along with rest -- I enjoyed Labor's sausages with mustard mayonnaise and pizzas. There was lots of beer but you had to pay!

Intoxicating Atmosphere

The mood of the crowd was intoxicating. I love the sense of truth and sincerity in people. You can never ever fake that.

Around 9 p.m. Saturday evening, John Howard conceded the inevitable defeat. He was closely watched by Labor's party in Brisbane.

We were moments before Kevin Rudd's arrival. "KEVIN!!!! KEVIN!!!" The chant began softly and then reached a crescendo. The chant became a shout and then a roar. Music played - a rhythmic theme of guitars and drums as Australia's new Prime Minister together with his family, took the stage.

This new Labor Prime Minister, with a posh accent distinctly at odds with his party's culture elegantly congratulated John Howard on his success throughout the years. The crowd started to boo Howard. With the raising on one hand - he stopped them and thanked Howard for "his dignity" in the telephone call he had just received acknowledging defeat.

Rudd, in claiming victory, said he would keep the economy strong but also said he would work to improve education, hospitals and infrastructure and address the effects of climate change and water shortages.

Changing Of The Guard

That November 24 changed Australia is clear. We are witnessing a revitalized Labor Party. On paper, no one like Kevin Rudd could have have won office for Labor. A Patrician and a former diplomat, distinctly lacking the bloke-factor. But he did!

The Liberal National Coalition party is in shreds. Peter Costello, Australia's outgoing treasurer,
announced plans to quit politics on Sunday. Costello held his seat in Saturday's election but said he would serve out the three-year term on the backbenches, helping mentor the defeated Liberal party's new generation of leaders. Costello, 50, served as treasurer for 11 and a half years and was considered the logical successor to outgoing Prime Minister John Howard, who endorsed Costello to take over on election night.

And as the old faces disappear ... the popular and charismatic Malcolm Turnbull, Howard's Environment Minister is now poised to challenge the Coalition's leadership. Turnbull is the natural nemesis to Rudd. A new and modern if not moderate face of conservative politics down under.