'Unelectable' Tony Abbott sweeps to power in Australia - Macleans.ca

‘Unelectable’ Tony Abbott sweeps to power in Australia

Gaffe-prone leader becomes Australia’s third PM in three months


CANBERRA, Australia – Australia’s “unelectable” and gaffe-prone political leader, Tony Abbott, confounded critics Saturday by becoming the country’s latest prime minister, leading the opposition to a sweeping election victory and ending six years of Labor Party rule.

Abbott, the leader of the conservative Liberal Party-led coalition, rode a wave of public bitterness over a hated carbon emissions tax, worries about a flagging economy and frustration over government infighting to win the election.

The result was a stunning turnaround for Abbott, a 55-year-old former Roman Catholic seminarian and Rhodes scholar who has never been particularly popular and was once dubbed unelectable by opponents and some of his own supporters.

He emerged victorious thanks, in large part, to the frustration of a country fed up with Labor and its once-popular leader, Kevin Rudd, who had engaged in a years-long power struggle with his former deputy, Julia Gillard. Gillard, who became the nation’s first female prime minister after ousting Rudd in a party vote in 2010, ended up losing her job to Rudd three years later in a similar internal party coup.

“I now look forward to forming a government that is competent, that is trustworthy and which purposefully and steadfastly and methodically sets about delivering on our commitments to you the Australian people,” Abbott told supporters in his victory speech Saturday night.

With more than 90 per cent of votes counted, official figures from the Australian Electoral Commission showed the Liberals ahead 53 per cent to Labor’s 47 per cent. The coalition was on track to win 91 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives, and Labor 54.

For a range of reasons, Abbott has been dismissed by many critics as not being prime minister material. A supremely fit volunteer lifeguard, he is often parodied in the media for wearing the red-and-yellow cap and brief swimwear worn by Australian lifeguards.

He has joked that he was not allowed to wear swim briefs, known in Australia as “budgie smugglers” — a reference to the budgerigar, a small Australian parrot — during the five-week election campaign.

Abbott’s approval ratings recently improved in polls, but he remains relatively unpopular, particularly among women voters.

“All those ridiculous people who said he was unelectable should understand how foolish they were to underestimate him,” former conservative Prime Minister John Howard, who promoted Abbott to his Cabinet during an 11-year reign, told Seven Network television Saturday.

Abbott was regarded as a competent minister. But his aggressive politics, social conservatism and knack for igniting controversy raised questions about his suitability as a potential national leader. He was elected party leader by his Liberal Party colleagues in late 2009 by a single vote majority.

His coalition was narrowly defeated in 2010 elections following a campaign in which Abbott made some conspicuous deviations from policy.

He came under fire during the campaign over an interview in which he drew a distinction between what he sometimes says “in the heat of discussion” and “an absolutely calm, considered, prepared, scripted remark.”

In the latest campaign, he was criticized for listing a female candidate’s “sex appeal” as a political asset, then defending himself by calling it a “charming compliment.” In another incident, he accidentally drew laughter during a speech by saying that no one is the “suppository” of all wisdom, when he apparently meant to say “repository.”

But the drama between Rudd and Gillard, combined with Labor reneging on an election promise by imposing a deeply unpopular tax on the nation’s biggest carbon polluters, proved deadly for Labor’s re-election chances.

Abbott, who becomes Australia’s third prime minister in three months, will likely end a period of extraordinary political instability and apparent chaos in Australia.

The voter swing away from Labor was a resounding rejection of Australia’s first minority government since World War II. Voters disliked the deals and compromises struck between Labor, the minor Greens party and independent lawmakers to keep their fragile, disparate and sometime chaotic coalition together for the past three years, including the carbon tax.

Abbott has vowed to scrap the carbon tax from July 2014 — two years after it was implemented — and instead introduce taxpayer-funded incentives for polluters to operate cleaner.

It is unclear whether Abbott will be able to pass the necessary law changes through Parliament, but he has threatened to call early elections if the Senate thwarts him.

Australia’s new leader inherits a slowing economy, hurt by the cooling of a mining boom that kept the resource-rich nation out of recession during the global financial crisis.

Abbott has promised to slash foreign aid spending as he concentrates on returning the budget to surplus. Labor spent billions of dollars on economic stimulus projects to avoid recession. But declining corporate tax revenues from a slowdown in mining forced Labor to break a promise to return the budget to surplus in the last fiscal year.

Abbott has also promised to repeal a tax on coal and iron ore mining companies, which he blames in part for the downturn in the mining boom. The 30 per cent tax on the profits of iron ore and coal miners was designed to cash in on burgeoning profits from a mineral boom fueled by Chinese industrial demand. But the boom was easing before the tax took effect. The tax was initially forecast to earn the government 3 billion Australian dollars ($2.7 billion) in its first year, but brought in only AU$126 million after six months.

Saturday’s election likely brought Australia’s first Aboriginal woman to Parliament. Former Olympian Nova Peris is almost certain to win a Senate seat for Labor in the Northern Territory, but the final results will not be known for days. Less likely is WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s bid for a Senate seat in Victoria state.


Associated Press writer Kristen Gelineau in Sydney contributed to this report.


‘Unelectable’ Tony Abbott sweeps to power in Australia

  1. Party before country….always. Whatever it takes to get votes, no matter how much damage it does.

    • Man, it doesn’t get much better than this. Do you get a bonus for working on Australian politics?

  2. This comment was deleted.

    • Cheer up. Australia elected a new government. They do that every few years, just like we do, just like any other functioning democracy. It’s not an apocalypse. It’s not even a catastrophe. What is it with you progressives anyway? Reading your hand-wringing posts, one would swear you believe the world lives and dies by its governance. Government is just one more factor affecting peoples’ lives, one of many. At most, it is a means of organizing and harnessing resources to deliver some services that wouldn’t exist otherwise. If we’ve elevated it beyond that, then that is our own fault, and perhaps a warning that we should be reining it in again.

    • The American oil and gas and refining and chemical manufacturing industries are all booming and experiencing a renaissance in the United States under Obama. (i.e. carbon emission boom) Thermal coal exports to Asia exploded by nearly an order of magnitude under Obama. There is a also supposedly a manufacturing renaissance in the US also (although it is more a pause in the decline) under Obama. (Mostly all that chemical manufacturing). The United State also conveniently neglects to count all the carbon emission from natural gas flaring and the absence of its regulation in the US Bakken oil fields.

      So it is not Canada and Australia that are destroying the planet, it is that e-mail snooping drone missile dropping war monger Obama that is.

    • @Rudy Haugeneder

      Okay, here is some mainstream, consensus IPCC climatology for you. The following figures are based on official multi-governmental climate change beliefs.

      Australia emits 1.2% of global anthropogenic CO2 (anthropogenic emissions being 4% of total CO2). If 5% of Australia’s emissions were to be cut this decade, 0.06% of global emissions would be abated by 2020. Then CO2 concentration would fall from the predicted 410 μatm to 409.988 μatm. Read that again: 410 μatm to 409.988 μatm. In turn, predicted temperature would fall by 0.00005 Cº (1/1000 of the minimum detectable global temperature change).

      And that would be at a cost of $162 billion*. Is this what you long for? And remember, this is based on IPCC theory, not the real world data which actually shows adding our 4% anthropogenic CO2 causes no statistically-significant warming. Again remember: there is no H20 hotspot. The whole theory rests on there being a hotspot to amplify the warming from CO2. This theoretical hotspot is built into the models, but in the real world it does not exist. So how do you reconcile that, Rudy?

      * Derived from Wong, P., Portfolio Budget Statements 2010-11: Budget-Related Paper No. 1.4. Climate Change and Energy Efficiency Portfolio, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, Australia (2010)

  3. From the article

    “Abbott’s approval ratings recently improved in polls, but he remains relatively unpopular, particularly among women voters.”

    Hah – he is so unpopular that he won the election. Imagine that!
    Typical media blather, I guess you really can pizz on a reporter’s shoes and tell him its raining.

    • Voters don’t like either one. Unfortunately…..’none of the above’…..is never a ballot option. Abbot was just a change from Rudd.

      • Pretty ambitious Emily.

        I’m surprised an introverted little tinker like you thinks it has enough silver tongue way with words to swing the Australian election.

        Man, it doesn’t get much better than this. Do you get a bonus for working Australian politics?