Tony Abbott becomes Australian PM as ALP self-destructsBy Asian Correspondent Sep 08, 2013 3:18PM UTC
Tony Abbott has become the Prime Minister of Australia with the incumbent Kevin Rudd and the Australian Labor Party slumping to electoral defeat.
Enjoying significant swings in key states across the nation, Mr Abbott and the Coalition now preside over an 81-51 seat majority in the House of Representatives, with one independent, one member of The Greens, and the namesake of Bob Katter’s Australia Party claiming office.
The ALP had pinned hopes on retaining control of the Senate, which would limit ability of the Coalition and Mr Abbott to pass signature legislations in the House of Representatives. As it stands, the Coalition have not obtained control in their own right in the Senate; a potential consolation prize for the ALP.
Speaking to the nation shortly after claiming victory, Mr Abbott was stoic and thanked his supporters while outlining a new vision for Australia. “I give you this assurance – we will not let you down,” he said.
“A good government is one with a duty to help everyone maximise his or her potential – Indigenous people, people with disability and our forgotten families as well as those who Menzies described as lifters not learners.”
“We will not let you down,” said Mr Abbott.
Kevin Rudd, who acknowledged defeat shortly before 9.30pm, was reflective of the Labor party’s legislative achievements and the challenges it now faces to rebuild as an effective opposition. “We have always, always risen from defeat. To renew our party with fresh vigour and new ideas for the future. And we will do it again.”
But there can be little doubt that factional infighting within the ALP disillusioned much of the Australian public, including the declining membership of the party. With years of leadership speculation and rivalry, much fostered by the Australian media, the ability of the ALP to articulate their vision to the public was limited. In the midst of division, Mr Abbott presented himself as a disciplined and stable leader.
But what can Australia expect with an Abbott government now set to operate with a clear majority?
Tony Abbott has continually stated that his first priority upon claiming office would be to immediately remove the carbon tax legislation, which proved divisive throughout the Gillard and Rudd governments. The Coalition have instead proposed a ‘direct-action’ plan and committed to obtaining a 5 percent reduction in emissions by 2020.
Before claiming office in 2010, then-Prime Minister Gillard famously promised that no carbon tax would be introduced under her watch – only to legislation in coming months. Whatever the merits of the policy, which are widely debated, the Coalition’s continual criticism of the policy proved effective with small businesses.
In regards to asylum seekers, a controversial issue in Australia, Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party have campaigned tirelessly on what they perceived as Labor’s weak policy on immigration, promising that they are the only party who can “stop the boats”. The strategy highlights the politicisation of the issue in Australian politics and is sure to test Mr Abbott’s and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s diplomatic relations with Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.
Mr Abbott’s party have indicated that they will instruct the Australian Navy to turn back boats when safe to do so, reintroduce temporary protection visas, establish mandatory minimum jail sentences for people smugglers, and “boost rigorous offshore processing for illegal arrivals so that bad behaviour has consequences”.
The Coalition, however, are expected to continue the implementation of the nation-wide Gonski school-funding program and the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which both received by-partisan funding in the early stages of the election campaign.
But there are also new figures of controversy at this election. Australia’s newest independent member is Clive Palmer, a billionaire mining magnate who recently authorised the building of a real-size replica of The Titanic and the world’s largest dinosaur park. The Palmer United Party contested every seat at this election despite only forming the party in April.
For the ALP, this election offers a much-needed opportunity to reform and unify as an opposition under a leadership that remains to be confirmed. For the Coalition, it presents a chance to govern in an outright majority – an ability that has been missing since 2010.