In a caucus revolt triggered by (former) leader Malcolm Turnbull embrace of Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), the Australian Liberal causus has ejected their leader, electing Tony Abbott in his place. Turnbull lost his leadership by one vote this morning.
Mr. Rudd’s ETS which will face a Senate vote, and is expected to be defeated in the Upper Chamber. Last week, Turnbull faced the first significant challenge to his leadership over ETS when five of his shadow ministers resigned in protest of their leader’s support for Rudd’s carbon trading bill.
Upon failure of the ETS legislation in the Senate, the bill can be reintroduced by Rudd but this would likely cause a double dissolution election; Rudd cannot pass the legislation due to a majority possessed by the Liberals and Family First party (a party also against Rudd’s ETS legislation). Leadership rival Joe Hockey said that he’d allow Liberal senators a free vote on ETS, however, Mr. Abbott has said this would not be allowed if he assumed Turnbull’s office.
The Liberals would prefer to defer the legislation to committee until the Copenhagen conference on climate change has concluded. Recent Australian polls have shown the Aussies to be unfavourable to a defined carbon trading system before testing the mood at the international conference. About 30% of Australians favour no carbon-trading scheme at all.
Abbott was the former health and industrial relations minister in Prime Minister John Howard’s cabinet. He led the monarchist movement before entering into politics.
This defeat is quite embarrassing for Turnbull having lost his leadership prior to challenging Australia’s governing Labour party on the hustings. A IT millionaire and former head of Goldman Sachs in Australia, Turnbull was seen by supporters to be an important figure ready to rebuild the Liberal Party after that party’s defeat to Rudd’s Labour Party in 2007.
RELATED: In the UK, Conservative Party leader David Cameron is facing grumblings within his own party regarding his stance on climate change. (Read the comments)
UPDATE: I’ve just chatted with some Liberal friends down under who’ve given me some more insight on who Tony Abbott is. Abbott, in the political sense is described as a “conviction politician” meaning that he doesn’t shy away from issues. A staunch Catholic, Abbott once studied to become a priest. He is described as an outdoorsman, a former boxer and rugby player with the crumpled ears to match.
Abbott came into formal politics under the leadership of John Hewson, where Abbott worked as the Liberal leader’s press secretary. Prior to this Abbott worked as a features writer for the Australian Murdoch Daily paper.
Originally elected in 1994, Abbott’s career includes the ministries of health and industrial relations. First, as the Industrial Relations minister, Abbott took a confrontational stance against the national construction union and regulated it. Abbott’s approach with striking workers was often an unusual one; during strikes, he would often go and address the workers himself. As for the federal government’s unemployment services, he deregulated them and privatized a large part of their function.
In Health, Abbott served to “keep health off of the front page” meaning that the portfolio was largely defensive in contrast to his tenure as Industrial Relations minister. However, Abbott faltered in this role when an old speech on abortion surfaced reigniting that debate in Australia. At the time, Australia was debating RU486 and a private member’s bill was quickly introduced stripping the minister of discretion on the issue.
After the defeat to Rudd’s Labour Party, Abbott served as shadow minister for aboriginal affairs.
The defeat of Turnbull is described as a major victory for the grassroots on ETS. Abbott’s preferred track is to defer ETS to the Senate committee until after Copenhagen. This will only be possible with the support of the Greens or via the two independent Senators. However, it is still possible that the government will allow the defeat of the bill. If it is defeated twice by the Senate, this will allow the PM an election where both houses of parliament would be dissolved for a general election.
Regarding Malcolm’s surprise defeat, another insider contact writes to say that the former Liberal leader massively misjudged party sentiment on the issue of ETS. My contact suggests that Malcolm is “intellectually captured by the prosperous urban left” and that he’s a “rich lefty at heart”. Liberals in parliament and street-level Conservatives were upset with Turnbull for ceding ground on the ETS debate to the Rudd government. My contact suggests that Turnbull could have taken the more tenable position of waiting on ETS until after Copenhagen and explained that the party perceived their leader to be handing a gift to the PM to take to the conference. Turnbull took the position that the party should fall in line and needed to be progressive and “give the planet the benefit of the doubt”.
Politically, the Liberals need to take the fight back to the government’s position on ETS whereas the last 8 months of debate have centred around what the Liberals would do instead. Under new leadership, Liberals hope that the party will be able to shift the focus back on Rudd.