International

Tony Abbott sworn in as Australia's PM

The conservative leader immediately scraps carbon tax, vows to turn back asylum-seeker boats

Australia's conservative leader Tony Abbott walks onto the stage to claim victory at an election night function in Sydney on Sept. 7, 2013.
Rob Griffith/Pool/Reuters

Immediately after being sworn in as Australia's prime minister, Tony Abbott ordered the scrapping of Australia's carbon tax and the turning back of boats carrying asylum-seekers.

The 55-year-old conservative pledged to get straight to work after a ceremony Wednesday at Government House in Canberra, where his Liberal-National Coalition government officially brought six years of Labor rule to a close.

"As soon as I return to Parliament House from the swearing-in ceremony, I will instruct the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to prepare the carbon tax repeal legislation," said Abbott, who once famously said that evidence blaming people for climate change was "absolute crap."

His new government instead favors a "direct action" plan, which includes an emissions reduction fund that would pay companies to increase their energy efficiency, as well as money for programs to replenish soil carbon and plant 20 million trees.

Abbott was elected on Sept. 7 on a pledge to build new roads across the vast nation, end taxes on corporate pollution and mining profits imposed under the Labor administration, and scrap a costly paid parental leave program.

Another central plank of Abbott's election campaign was stopping asylum-seeker boats. His policy of using the navy to tow them back to nearby Indonesia, their typical point of transit, was set to come into effect on Wednesday.

Every year thousands of would-be refugees from countries including Afghanistan, Iran and Sri Lanka attempt the dangerous journey, often in rickety boats run by people-smuggling syndicates.

Military tow-back

"It's so important that we send a message to the people-smugglers that, from today, their business model is coming to an end," Abbott said.

The military tow-back is part of Operation Sovereign Borders, which is widely expected to be led by Deputy Chief of Army Angus Campbell, reporting directly to Scott Morrison, the immigration minister.

It includes a proposal to embed Australian police in Indonesia, buy up fishing boats to keep them out of people-smugglers' hands and pay Indonesians for intelligence. The plans have received a cool reception in Jakarta.

Australia has struggled to manage the stream of asylum-seekers arriving on overloaded fishing boats with hundreds dying on the risky journey in recent years.

Counting of postal votes has begun after the election, but the conservatives are on track to win 90 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives to Labor's 55.

It gives Abbott a clear majority, although the make-up of the upper house of parliament is not yet apparent, with the likelihood that six to seven minor party candidates could secure seats to hold the balance of power.

Abbott and his key ministers were sworn in by Governor-General Quentin Bryce, 11 days after his overwhelming victory over Kevin Rudd and two days after announcing his cabinet.

He was criticized for naming just one woman in his 19-person front-bench: Julie Bishop as foreign minister.

Chris Bowen, the acting leader of the Labor party, which had six women in cabinet before it lost the election, said Australia has gone backward.

"The cabinet of Afghanistan now has more women in it," Bowen said, in reference to the three Afghan women with cabinet portfolios.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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