Australia: Carbon tax and boats top Abbott agenda

Newly elected Prime Minister Tony Abbott with his family on election night in Sydney. Picture: Getty
Newly elected Prime Minister Tony Abbott with his family on election night in Sydney. Picture: Getty
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AUSTRALIA’S new government prepared to take control of the nation yesterday, with prime minister-elect Tony Abbott vowing to immediately scrap a hated tax on carbon polluters and implement a controversial plan to stop asylum seekers from reaching the nation’s shores.

Mr Abbott met with bureaucrats to go over his border security plans and said his first priority would be to repeal the deeply unpopular carbon tax on Australia’s biggest industrial polluters.

Mr Abbott’s conservative Liberal party-led coalition won a crushing victory in elections on Saturday against the centre-left Labor Party, which had ruled for six years.

Labor was ultimately doomed by years of party instability and bickering, and by its decision to renege on an election promise by implementing the carbon tax, which many Australians blame for steep increases in their power bills.

The Australian Electoral Commission’s latest count yesterday had the coalition likely to win a clear majority of 86 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives. Labor appeared likely to secure 57.

In an open letter yesterday, Mr Abbott said he would immediately implement his border protection plan, under which the Australian navy would turn back Indonesian fishing boats carrying asylum seekers into Australian waters. The coalition has also proposed that the government buy old fishing boats from Indonesian fishermen to prevent them from falling into the hands of people smugglers.

Labor has dismissed the boat-buying policy as “crazy,” and the idea was sharply criticised yesterday by Mahfudz Siddiq, a senior Indonesian lawmaker, who said it would threaten relations between the two countries.

“His idea is clearly insulting the dignity of Indonesians,” he said. “It showed to us that he does not understand diplomacy.”

Mr Abbott, a supremely fit 55-year-old, began his first day as prime minister-elect with an early morning bicycle ride from his Sydney home with friends.

“It was a very big night, but this is just the start of another normal day and there’s going to be a fair bit of solid work this morning,” he told reporters.

In his letter, Mr Abbott took a dig at the outgoing Labor government’s notorious infighting.

“We will be a careful, collegial, consultative, straightforward government that says what it means and does what it says and that does not waste your money,” he wrote.

He also held briefings yesterday with defence and intelligence officials to get an update on the Syrian civil war. Mr Abbott, whose party is often criticised for placing too little value on foreign relations, came under fire last week for describing the Syrian crisis in an interview as “baddies versus baddies”.

Outgoing prime minister Kevin Rudd dubbed the comments “the most simplistic analysis I’ve ever heard.”

The coalition has made clear that it intends to make steep cuts to spending in a bid to return the Australian budget to a surplus after five consecutive deficits delivered by Labor since the global economic crisis.

The outgoing Labor government said in May that Australia’s long-standing pledge to increase its foreign aid spending to 0.5 per cent of gross national income by 2015-16 would be postponed by two years.

The coalition said in a statement last week that it shared Labor’s commitment to reach the 0.5 per cent target “over time, but cannot commit to a date”.

The coalition appears unlikely to win a majority in the Senate. But the election could deliver some conservative-minded senators for minor parties that Mr Abbott could deal with.