Party ousts Australian PM Abbott for more moderate rival
Australia's ruling conservatives ousted beleaguered Prime Minister Tony Abbott as party leader yesterday evening in a change that could signal a different Australian response to climate change and allow for a more moderate agenda that could include recognition of gay marriage.
Liberal Party members voted 54 to 44 to replace Abbott with former party leader and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who had called for the leadership ballot just hours earlier amid flagging opinion polls for the two-year-old conservative coalition government. Turnbull will become Australia's fourth prime minister in just over two years when he is sworn in today.
Turnbull split his coalition and lost the party leadership in 2009 over his support for a then-Labour Party government's proposal to make industrial polluters pay for the carbon gas emissions that they produced through an emissions permit trading scheme.
A coalition government under Abbott last year repealed a two-year-old carbon tax and replaced it with a policy of paying industrial polluters 2.55 billion Australian dollars (US$1.8 billion) in taxpayer-funded incentives to operate more cleanly. The policy imposes no financial penalty for polluting and critics say it won't be enough to reduce Australia's heavy reliance on abundant reserves of cheap coal to generate electricity.
In his first news conference since he was elected party leader, Turnbull foreshadowed no changes to climate policy.
"Policies are reviewed and adapted all the time," he said. "But the climate policy is one that I think has been very well designed. That was a very, very good piece of work."
Turnbull declined to discuss any other potential policy changes, emphasizing that his leadership style would be collaborative. Abbott was often accused of making rogue policy pronouncements.
Turnbull supports gay marriage and previously proposed that Parliament vote on legalising it before elections due around September next year.
Abbott, who opposes gay marriage, proposed avoiding divisive public debate by holding a post-election direct vote that electoral authorities estimated would cost AU$158 million ($113 million).