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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 December, 2003, 07:19 GMT
Australia opposition elects leader
Labor leader Mark Latham
Mr Latham has criticised Australian involvement in Iraq
Australia's opposition Labor Party has voted its outspoken treasury secretary Mark Latham as its new leader.

The surprise result saw Mr Latham beat former leader Kim Beazley by 47 to 45.

The vote came after leader Simon Crean resigned last week following a collapse in support from party members in the run-up to next year's election.

Prime Minister John Howard, serving his third term in office, remains hugely popular, buoyed by tough domestic and foreign policies and a healthy economy.

After winning the leadership, Mr Latham, 42, told a news conference that he wanted to restore equality to Australians.

"My aim will be to put the rungs of healthcare, education, early childhood development, decent services, back into that ladder of opportunity," he said.

Labor has traditionally viewed itself as the Australian political party most committed to forging links with Asia, but Mr Latham has virtually no foreign policy experience.

His only reference to foreign affairs during the news conference was a commitment to win the international war on terror.


Mr Latham has strongly criticised the war in Iraq, and earlier this year used coarse language in an interview to describe Mr Howard's close relationship with the US.

He also told parliament in March that George W Bush was "the most incompetent and dangerous president in living memory."

He defended his remark but has promised to tone down his plain speaking, saying "no more crudity."

He also achieved notoriety after a brawl in which he broke a taxi driver's arm in a row over a fare.

Tuesday's leadership vote came just five months after Mr Crean beat off a leadership challenge from Mr Beazley, the former party leader.

The election of Mr Latham has prompted speculation that the prime minister, John Howard, could call an early election to take advantage of the new opposition leader's relative inexperience.

Support for Mr Howard's Conservative coalition has risen by 3% over two weeks, according to an opinion poll published on Tuesday.

It predicted that the coalition would get 53% of the vote - 6% ahead of Labor.

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