Tony Abbott was sworn in as Australia’s new prime minister yesterday and immediately ordered the scrapping of the nation’s carbon tax and the halting of asylum seeker boats.
The 55-year-old conservative launched straight into work with a Cabinet meeting after the ceremony at Government House in Canberra, where his Liberal/National government officially brought six years of Labor rule to a close.
“Today is not just a ceremonial day, it’s an action day. The Australian people expect us to get straight down to business and that’s exactly what this government will do,” said Abbott, a political hard man who has worked to soften his macho image in recent months.
In presenting his front-bench team to Australian Governor-General Quentin Bryce, he added: “We will be a problem-solving government based on values, not ideology.”
Abbott was elected on Sept. 7 on a pledge to quickly scrap taxes on corporate pollution and mining profits imposed under Labor, as well as introducing a costly paid parental leave scheme and a vow to build new roads across the vast nation.
Top of his to-do list is axing the unpopular carbon tax, which charges the country’s biggest polluters for their emissions at a fixed price.
His government instead favors a “direct action” plan that includes an emissions reduction fund to pay companies to increase their energy efficiency, and money for schemes to replenish soil carbon and plant 20 million trees.
Abbott, who once said that evidence blaming mankind for climate change was “absolute crap,” said he would immediately instruct officials “to prepare the carbon tax repeal legislation.”
Another central plank of his election campaign was stopping asylum seeker boats. His policy of using the navy to tow them back to Indonesia — their typical point of transit — came into effect yesterday and could prove to be an early test of his mettle.
“It’s so important that we send a message to the people smugglers that, from today, their business model is coming to an end,” Abbott said.
The military tow-back is part of Operation Sovereign Borders, which is widely expected to be led by Australian Deputy Army Chief Angus Campbell, a former special forces commander, reporting directly to new Australian Minister of Immigration Scott Morrison.
It includes a proposal to embed Australian police in Indonesia, buy up fishing boats to keep them out of people smugglers’ hands and pay locals for intelligence — plans that have received a cool reception in Jakarta.
Australia has struggled to manage the stream of asylum seekers arriving on rickety, overloaded fishing boats, with hundreds dying on the risky journey in recent years.
Counting of postal votes is still under way after the election, but the conservatives are on track to win 90 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives to Labor’s 55.
It gives Abbott a clear majority, although the makeup of the upper house of parliament is not yet apparent, with the likelihood that six to seven minor party candidates could secure seats to hold the balance of power — complicating the new government’s legislative push.
The new prime minister and his key ministers were sworn in by Bryce 11 days after Abbott’s overwhelming victory over Kevin Rudd and he wasted no time asserting his authority, axing three high-profile public service department heads and making two new appointments.
While Abbott has kept a low profile since the polls, he has been criticized for naming just one woman in his 19-person front-bench — new Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop.
He has also attracted criticism, including from his own party, for streamlining his ministry, with key portfolios such as water, climate change, science and aged care wrapped into other portfolios.
“I mean, we’ve got a minister for sport for God’s sake, but we don’t have a minister for science,” said Liberal member of parliament Dennis Jensen, comments seized on by Labor as a “sign of disunity” in the government.
Other ministers sworn in included Joe Hockey as treasurer, George Brandis as attorney-general and Nationals leader Warren Truss as deputy prime minister.