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Howard replaced as party leader

world Updated: Nov 29, 2007 09:27 IST

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Australia's former defence minister Brendan Nelson was on Thursday elected as the new leader of the Liberal Party to replace outgoing prime minister John Howard, the party said.

Nelson won a close vote against multimillionaire candidate Malcolm Turnbull to secure the top job in the conservative party swept from power by prime minister-elect Kevin Rudd's centre-left Labour Party in weekend elections.

Former education minister Julie Bishop was elected deputy party leader, outgoing deputy leader Peter Costello told a news conference.

Howard had suggested when he conceded defeat in elections Saturday that Costello, who had served as his treasurer during 11 years in power, would take over as party leader.

But Costello refused to stand for the leadership of a party humiliated by voters and banished to the opposition benches in Parliament, plunging the Liberals into turmoil.

"We had a positive party room meeting," Costello said in a brief statement to reporters. "It was warm."

The incoming leader had thanked Howard and Costello for what they had done for the party, he said.

Nelson, who was once a member of the Labor Party, has said he would make social welfare more important "relative to economic rationalism" if he was elected Liberal Party leader.

"(It will be a balance) not only of economic but also human and social objectives for our country," he said.

As part of the massive change of the Australian political landscape after Saturday's election, Howard's deputy prime minister Mark Vaile has also announced he would step down as the leader of the National Party.