Page last updated at 08:15 GMT, Tuesday, 16 September 2008 09:15 UK

New head for Australia opposition

Malcolm Turnbull on a republican campaign in 1999
Mr Turnbull's strong republicanism could prove divisive

A millionaire politician and former lawyer has been elected leader of the conservative opposition in Australia.

Malcolm Turnbull defeated Brendan Nelson by four votes in the ballot for leadership of the Liberal Party.

Mr Nelson had been blamed for failing to counter the rising popularity of Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Under former Prime Minister John Howard the Liberal Party enjoyed power for almost 12 years before falling at the polls last November.

Mr Turnbull's bid for the leadership was expected, although the timing took analysts by surprise.

He was a Rhodes Scholar at Britain's Oxford University; as a lawyer he defeated Britain's Thatcher government in a court case over the Spycatcher memoirs of a former British intelligence officer.

He has been a farmer and a merchant banker, gaining prominence from his leadership of the failed 1999 vote on whether Australia should break its ties with the British monarchy.

Republican rifts

His background as a former leader of the Australian Republican Movement could prove divisive for the conservatives, they said.

Kevin Rudd is facing a plausible prime minister in waiting, at a time when economic issues will be front and centre
Nick Bryant
BBC Sydney correspondent

Prime Minister Rudd appeared to capitalise on this when he said he looked forward to working with Mr Turnbull on national issues, not least the country's possible move toward letting go of Queen Elizabeth II as head of state.

Mr Turnbull was environment minister in the Howard government and says an emissions trading scheme should be brought in by 2011, in contrast to the government's much faster plans for carbon trading.

Deputy leader of the Liberal Party Julie Bishop, who retained her position, said Mr Turnbull would present a strong and credible alternative to the "weak and ineffectual" Mr Rudd.

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