SYDNEY: Australian premier-elect Tony Abbott began the transition to government Monday, but despite a convincing election victory faced early hurdles including an unruly upper house that could stall reforms, and the first asylum-seeker boat arrivals under his watch.
The conservative leader, who ended six years of Labor rule on Saturday, promised a steady approach after years of divisive politics which alienated voters and saw outgoing prime minister Kevin Rudd ejected from power.
“My emphasis will be on being purposeful, methodical, calm and conscientious,” he told Fairfax Radio as he held strategy meetings in Canberra.
Abbott, who is likely to be sworn in next week, has begun forming his front bench with veteran Julie Bishop as foreign minister, Joe Hockey as treasurer and Warren Truss, the leader of the National Party which is the junior partner in the coalition, as his deputy.
But while his Liberal/National coalition is forecast to enjoy a 32-seat majority in the lower House of Representatives, the makeup of the upper house Senate is not yet clear.
After the lurch to the right, up to seven minor party candidates could secure seats to hold the balance of power thanks to voter dissatisfaction with the main parties — complicating the new government’s legislative push.
With 39 votes required to get laws through the 76-seat Senate, Abbott will need to lock in six of these marginal votes — which could include the Australian Sports Party and the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party — to pass bills, on current projections.
Abbott said Labor and the minor parties should respect the new government’s mandate and not stand in its way.
“In the end they all need to respect the government of our nation has a mandate and the parliament should work with the government of the day to implement its mandate,” he said.
Abbott has vowed to quickly scrap corporate pollution and mining profits taxes imposed under Labor, introduce a costly and controversial paid parental leave scheme and halt asylum-seeker boats heading to Australia.
Stopping the boats was a central plank of his campaign and he faced an early test Monday with two vessels carrying 145 passengers intercepted, one of them carrying two foreign journalists reportedly working for the US media.
Abbott has vowed to turn back asylum-seekers boats to Indonesia where most of them originate “from day one” when he assumes office.
But he said Monday he would wait for the dust to settle before forging ahead with his agenda.
“The last thing I want to do is to rush the parliament back for a photo opportunity before the substance of the work is there for it to do,” Abbott said. “It will be back toward the end of October, early November.”
Abbott revealed that Rudd, who is stepping down as Labor leader, made a gracious phone call to concede the election on Saturday.