Abbott gets busy backing away from pledges made during election

New prime minister appears to have shelved stance taken in opposition

Australia’s new prime minister Tony Abbott . (Photo by Stefan Postles/Getty Images)

Australia’s new prime minister Tony Abbott . (Photo by Stefan Postles/Getty Images)

Sat, Sep 21, 2013, 01:00

Australia’s new prime minister Tony Abbott spent the last past three years destabilising the Labor administration at every opportunity, saying it was the country’s “worst government ever”.

He was helped in this task by Labor’s internecine feuding which enabled Julia Gillard replace Kevin Rudd as prime minister and then Rudd in turn replace her. With enemies like those, Abbott probably didn’t need his friends in the Murdoch press and talkback radio to back him, but they did anyway.

For a thousand days there was no respite from the Abbott attacks, which made it seem like the longest election campaign to date. But when the actual campaign began, Abbott suddenly shifted gear.

The tough campaigner who said the Labor carbon tax would ruin the economy (it didn’t), and whose scare tactics warned of Labor’s “debt and deficit”, accused Rudd of being “so negative”.

The Australian public could have been forgiven for saying, “Mr Pot, let me introduce you to Mr Kettle”. But they didn’t notice, or were way past caring.

Days before the election, the “budget crisis” Abbott said was Labor’s legacy was forgotten. Knowing the election was in the bag, he backed away from his promise to balance the budget within one term.

Policy shift
Now it was “within

10 years” (by which time the Liberal-National coalition will be on its fourth term of government if it is still in power).

Having secured victory with a 32-seat majority, Abbott and his cabinet were not sworn in until 11 days after the election. The supposed budget crisis was now just a memory and the asylum-seeker boats he had pledged to stop from day one of winning power kept on coming. Seven of them in fact, containing more than 500 men, women and children from Iran, Afghanistan and other troubled regions of Asia.

But the Liberal Party chief has been true to his view that climate change is “crap”. The climate commission, an independent body set up by the previous government “to provide reliable and authoritative” information has been abolished.

Former chief commissioner Prof Tim Flannery is disillusioned: “We’ve just seen one of the earliest ever starts to the bush-fire season in Sydney following the hottest 12 months on record,” he said.

Coalition agenda
“[The climate commission] stayed out of the politics and stuck to the facts . . . I believe that Australians have a right to

. . . accurate information on climate change.”

Though the coalition won in a landslide in the lower house, in the upper house it will need votes from independents or other parties to pass legislation, even when the newly elected senators take their seats next July. With this in mind, Abbott has promised to go back to the polls if Labor votes against scrapping the carbon tax.

The motley crew of incoming minor party senate members is more likely to provide the climate-sceptic votes Abbott needs to end the carbon tax.

One of the new senators for New South Wales is David Leyonhjelm of the Liberal Democrats. His party is no relation to Abbott’s, but benefitted from voter confusion. The senate paper for New South Wales was a metre wide, with writing so small that a magnifying glass was provided for voters.

The Liberal Democrats’ name was drawn in position A on the ballot paper. The Liberals got position Y. The Lib Dems, who believe in the right to carry concealed weapons, increased its vote eight-fold from the last election. Leyonhjelm, along with his eclectic mix of colleagues, will hold the balance of power nine months from now.