CANBERRA: Tony Abbott was sworn in as Australia’s new prime minister on Wednesday and immediately ordered the scrapping of the nation’s carbon tax and the halting of asylum-seeker boats.
The 55-year-old conservative pledged to knuckle down immediately after the ceremony at Government House in Canberra where his Liberal/National government officially brought six years of Labour 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,” Abbott said in a statement.
In presenting his frontbench team to Governor-General Quentin Bryce, he added: “We will be a problem-solving government based on values not ideology.
“We hope to be judged by what we have done, rather than by what we have said we would do.”
Abbott was elected on September 7 on a pledge to quickly scrap taxes on corporate pollution and mining profits imposed under Labour, 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 favours 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”.
‘A message to the people-smugglers’
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 — was to come into effect Wednesday, 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 Deputy Chief of Army Angus Campbell, a former special forces commander, reporting directly to new Immigration Minister 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 Labour’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, who tweeted: “With Mr Abbott’s swearing in today I cease formally to be prime minister. Thank you Oz for the opportunity to serve.”
While Abbott has kept a low profile since the polls, he has already come under flak for naming just one woman in his 19-person front-bench — Julie Bishop as foreign minister. The previous Labour government had six women in cabinet.
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.
Other ministers sworn in included Joe Hockey as treasurer, George Brandis as attorney-general, and Nationals leader Warren Truss as deputy prime minister.