New Australian PM gets down to business quickly


Mon, Sep 09, 2013 - Page 1

Triumphant conservative leader Tony Abbott vowed yesterday to “get down to business” and be prime minister for all Australians after his resounding election victory ended six years of tumultuous Labor rule.

Labor, led by the charismatic outgoing Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, were punished in Saturday’s polls for bitter in-fighting that saw Rudd oust former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard as party leader in June, after she did the same to him in 2010.

In what the Herald Sun billed as his first interview, Abbott pledged to forge ahead with his agenda to stop asylum-seeker boats — an issue that dominated the campaign — and abolish a tax on carbon emissions from “day one.”

However, he also signaled his intention to recast himself as a national leader and draw a line under a bitter and divisive campaign that alienated voters.

“I am very conscious of the fact that opposition leaders are tribal chiefs, but prime ministers have to be national leaders,” Abbott said. “You have to govern for everyone, including the people that didn’t vote for you and the people who probably won’t ever support you. That’s the nature of the job.”

“While I certainly can’t promise that everyone is going to agree with everything an incoming government does, I certainly intend to be a consultative, collegiate prime minister,” he added.

Labor escaped the total rout pollsters had predicted. The election commission count is a prolonged affair with complicated preference voting, but with more than 90 percent tallied, Abbott’s coalition led in 86 seats and Labor was on 57 in the 150-seat Australian House of Representatives.

Four seats were too close to call, the Greens were ahead in one, and an independent and a minor party were leading the other two.

Among early victors was former Olympian Nova Peris, who became the first Aboriginal woman elected to parliament, a welcome achievement for center-left Labor.

Half the spots in the Australian Senate were also at stake in Saturday’s ballot, and fringe groups looked to have secured several seats thanks to voter dissatisfaction with the main parties — complicating the new government’s legislative push.

Billionaire Clive Palmer, a resources baron who has run an eccentric campaign, was confident of winning a seat for himself in the lower house and as many as two in the Senate for his populist Palmer United Party.

“If I am given the task of leading the government in the Senate, it will be a bit like herding cats trying to get the legislation through,” conservative lawmaker Eric Abetz said.

Political observers forecast an insular period for Australia where domestic concerns will trump foreign policy, as Abbott tries to win back the confidence of alienated citizens with a back-to-basics agenda of roads, childcare and Internet access.

Labor’s defeat led Rudd to announce he was standing down as party leader. Several senior members of his government blamed the turmoil and infighting that blighted the party’s six-year term for the election loss.

Australian Minister of Employment Bill Shorten emerged as an early favorite to take over as the party seeks to heals internal divisions.