SYDNEY: Australian Prime Minister-elect Tony Abbott on Monday began the transition to government, promising a methodical approach as he faced potential hurdles in the upper house to drive through his reform agenda.
The conservative leader, who ended six years of Labor rule on Saturday, held meetings in Canberra to hammer out the way forward, ahead of being sworn in to take over from Kevin Rudd, likely next week.
“My emphasis will be on being purposeful, methodical, calm and conscientious,” he told Fairfax Radio.
Abbott has begun forming his front bench, so far confirming that National Party leader Warren Truss will be his deputy, Julie Bishop will be foreign minister and Joe Hockey the treasurer.
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.
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 legislation 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.
“Now I know it’s a two-way street and respect has got to be earned rather than merely demanded, but nevertheless the people voted for change and change they will get.”
Abbott has vowed to quickly scrap corporate pollution and mining profits taxes imposed under Labor and introduce a costly and controversial paid parental leave scheme.
But he said 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 is likely to be sworn in next week and revealed Rudd, who is stepping down as Labor leader, made a gracious phone call to concede the election on Saturday.
“He rang me and he spoke with warmth,” Abbott said.
After six years of divisive Labor rule, the nation’s newspapers—over which tycoon Rupert Murdoch has a monopoly hold—urged Australians to give the new government a fair go.
“The past six years are a salutary reminder of how easy it is to misjudge the calibre of prime ministerial candidate until he or she has been tested in office,” wrote The Australian, a Murdoch broadsheet, which backed Abbott to win.
“We can be confident, however, that Mr. Abbott possesses abundant reserves of grit and sound judgment, the fundamental requirements for the post.”
Fairfax Media’s Sydney Morning Herald said Abbott must be given “the time and trust he needs to deliver on his promise of stable government for all Australians”.
Its stablemate The Australian Financial Review said: “Mr. Abbott made fools of those who depicted him as some sort of unelectable freak.
“His victory speech was mostly gracious and inclusive, in contrast to the rambling 23-minute concession monologue from an oddly beaming Kevin Rudd, who seemed mostly focused on his own vindication.”