By Renju Jose
SYDNEY (Reuters) -Australia’s Labor Party leader, Anthony Albanese, was sworn in as the country’s 31st prime minister on Monday, promising to bring the country together after a fractious election campaign as he vowed to tackle climate change and inequality.
Labor returned to power after nine years in opposition as a wave of unprecedented support for the Greens and climate-focussed independents, mostly women, helped unseat the conservative coalition in Saturday’s general election.
“I look forward to leading a government that makes Australians proud, a government that doesn’t seek to divide, that doesn’t seek to have wedges but seeks to bring people together,” Albanese said during his first media briefing after taking charge as the prime minister.
Although votes are still being counted and the makeup of government has yet to be finalised, Albanese was sworn in by Governor-General David Hurley at a ceremony in the national capital, Canberra so he could attend a meeting of the “Quad” security grouping in Tokyo on Tuesday.
India, the United States, Japan and Australia are members of the Quad, an informal group that Washington has been promoting to work as a potential bulwark against China’s increasing political, commercial and military activity in the Indo-Pacific.
Albanese said the country’s relationship with China would remain “a difficult one” ahead of the summit with U.S. President Joe Biden and the prime ministers of Japan and India.
Deputy Labor leader Richard Marles and three key ministers – Penny Wong in foreign affairs, Jim Chalmers as treasurer and Katy Gallagher in finance – were also sworn in, with Wong to join Albanese on the Quad trip.
WORKING CLASS CARD
Labor’s campaign heavily spotlighted Albanese’s working-class credentials – a boy raised in public housing by a single mother on a disability pension – and his image as a pragmatic unifier.
Centre-left Labor is leading in 76 seats in the 151 seat lower house, with a few races too close to call, according to the Australian Electoral Commission. Independents or Green party looked set to win more than a dozen seats as counting of postal votes continued.
So-called “teal independents” campaigning in affluent, Liberal-held seats on a platform of climate, integrity and equality, could yet hold significant sway.
Independent Monique Ryan said climate was the most important issue to constituents in her seat of Kooyong in Melbourne, which outgoing Treasurer Josh Frydenberg formally conceded on Monday.
“We listened to what people wanted, we listened to their values and their desires, and we put together a platform that reflected those,” Ryan said.
Albanese said he hoped Labor would get enough seats to govern on their own but added he had struck agreements with some independents that they not support no-confidence motions against his government.
After his return from Japan, Albanese said, he would act swiftly to implement his election promises, including setting up a national anti-corruption commission and a A$15 billion ($10.6 billion) manufacturing fund to diversify Australia’s economy.
The swearing-in of the full ministry will happen on June 1, he said.
Australian financial markets offered a muted reaction to the election verdict on Monday, with the outcome already priced in and no radical change in economic course expected.
“Our economic forecasts and call on the (Reserve Bank of Australia) are unchanged despite the change of national leadership,” economists at Commonwealth Bank of Australia said.
($1 = 1.4108 Australian dollars)
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(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Gerry Doyle)