Although the Abbott government has been in office for less than a month, there are clear signs that this is a government which will move quickly and methodically to implement its program for Australia.
Almost all of Mr Abbott’s decisions have been criticised by the left and sections of the media; but he has proceeded regardless.
The first sign of the new prime minister’s approach was seen in the days after the September 7 election. In contrast to the Rudd and Gillard governments, which were sworn in within days, Tony Abbott waited until September 18 to have his new ministry sworn in.
In the meantime, however, he had extensive briefings from the public service chiefs on key policy issues, and encouraged his ministerial team to do likewise.
Immediately after the government was sworn in, Mr Abbott instructed his department to prepare the legislation for the repeal of the carbon tax. This will be difficult because Labor and the Greens have a majority in the Senate, and will be able to block legislation until July 1, 2014, when the recently-elected senators take their seats.
Abbott also announced a major reorganisation of the federal bureaucracy, in order to “simplify the management of government business, create clear lines of accountability and ensure that departments deliver on the Government’s key priorities”.
Several senior bureaucrats who had implemented key parts of Labor’s agenda — the Rudd government’s asylum-seeker policy and the Gillard government’s carbon tax, among others — were retired, to howls of indignation from the Labor Party.
The Climate Change Commission — a multi-million dollar agitprop body set up by the Gillard government to promote Labor’s environmental agenda — was shut down; and the government announced that it would wind-up the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC).
Closing the corporation may prove difficult, as Labor and the Greens have announced that they will block legislation in the Senate.
Until it is disbanded, the government has instructed the corporation to issue no more loans.
(The Climate Change Commission almost immediately re-established itself as the privately-run Climate Change Council — but it is no longer bankrolled by taxpayers).
Mr Abbott also announced that his government would back the construction of major new urban infrastructure, including the 33 km Connex Motorway in Sydney and the East-West Link in Melbourne.
Among the new positions in the ministry, Barnaby Joyce (deputy leader of the National Party) was appointed Minister for Agriculture.
This is a particularly sensitive portfolio, as it covers the export of live cattle to Indonesia, foreign purchases of Australian agricultural land, the expansion of coal-seam gas into prime agricultural land, and the $3 billion offer by US grain corporation, Archer Daniels Midland, for Australia’s largest grain company, GrainCorp.
In his first address on becoming minister, Mr Joyce said his ambitions were to put more cash in farmers’ pockets and “take this great industry of ours back into the forefront of the nation, where it belongs”.
In conjunction with the Immigration Minister, Tony Abbott announced the implementation of his government’s new border-control program, designed to end the flood of boat-people from Indonesia, and tragic deaths at sea.
Unlike Kevin Rudd’s repeated U-turns on the issue, the Abbott policy has been clear and consistent. It involved the appointment of a senior army officer to oversee Operation Sovereign Borders, the government’s scheme to stop the flow of illegal boat arrivals to Australia, almost all from Indonesia.
The government confirmed that boat arrivals would not be resettled in Australia, and announced that it would fast-track the removal of boat arrivals from Christmas Island to Manus Island and Nauru, where off-shore detention facilities are being expanded.
The Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, also announced that the government would have a weekly media briefing on asylum-seeker issues, ending the media circus which followed every boat arrival at Christmas Island.
Mr Abbott announced that his first overseas visit would be to Indonesia, Australia’s largest neighbour, a major trading partner and the source of most of the boat-people. He was accompanied by senior ministerial staff and 21 business leaders.
On arrival in Indonesia, Mr Abbott said that Indonesia “is Australia’s most important overall relationship”, a far cry from the attempts by Kevin Rudd to centre Australia’s foreign policy on China and Gillard to focus on the “Asian century”.
During his visit to Indonesia, Mr Abbott and President Yudhoyono held confidential discussions about a resolution of the boat-people issue. Both leaders were positive about the outcome.
Far more importantly, Australian naval personnel quietly handed over two boatloads of asylum-seekers to Indonesian maritime authorities, who equally quietly took them back to Indonesia. And Labor said it couldn’t be done…
Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.