|Prime Minister of Australia|
18 September 2013
|Governor General||Dame Quentin Bryce
Sir Peter Cosgrove
|Preceded by||Kevin Rudd|
The Abbott Government is the federal executive Government of Australia of the Liberal-National Coalition, by the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott. Following the 2013 Australian federal election on 7 September, the Coalition defeated the second Rudd Government, ending the six year Labor Government. The new government was sworn in on 18 September 2013.
- 1 Background
- 2 2013 election
- 3 Appointments
- 4 Term of Government
- 4.1 Foreign affairs and trade
- 4.2 Indigenous Affairs
- 4.3 Economic policy
- 4.4 Social policy
- 4.5 Immigration
- 4.6 Infrastructure
- 4.7 Environment
- 4.8 Health
- 4.9 Education
- 4.10 Freedom of information
- 5 References
The Liberal-Nationals, led by Abbott, won the 2013 Australian federal election, returning their Coalition to power after six years in opposition. Abbott, a former Rhodes Scholar, journalist and political advisor, had entered Parliament in 1994 as the Member for Warringah and served as a senior minister in the Howard Government, which lost office at the 2007 election to the Kevin Rudd led Australian Labor Party. Abbott served as Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs under Liberal leaders Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull and then became Leader of the Opposition following a 2009 leadership spill in which he defeated the incumbent leader, Malcolm Turnbull, by one vote.
Rudd did not complete his first term in office, being replaced by Julia Gillard following an internal Labor party leadership vote in June 2010. Abbott led the Coalition to the 2010 federal election, which saw the Gillard Government only narrowly retain office by forming a minority government with the support of four crossbench MPs after the election produced a hung parliament. Leadership instability in the ALP continued, and Gillard was replaced by Rudd following a Labor ballot conducted shortly before the 2013 election.
As Opposition Leader, Abbott opposed the Rudd-Gillard government's introduction of a mining profits tax, and emissions trading scheme and carbon tax, and criticised the handling of asylum seeker policy. He offered support to the Gillard Government's National Disability Insurance Scheme, and matched the Government on its first four years funding for the Gonski restructuring of education funding. He took a proposal for an expanded paid parental leave scheme, part funded by a levy on big business, to the 2010 and 2013 elections. If elected, he promised to instigate a referendum to give recognition to Indigenous Australians in the Australian Constitution, and to prioritise indigenous affairs by placing it within the department of prime minister and cabinet, saying: "There will be, in effect, a prime minister for Aboriginal affairs". In his 2013 election campaign, Abbott told the media that the Coalition wanted to "build a stronger economy so that everyone can get ahead. We'll scrap the carbon tax, end the waste, stop the boats and build the infrastructure and the roads of the 21st century."
The Liberal Party under Abbott, together with the National Party, led by Warren Truss, achieved a 3.65 percent two-party swing at the 2013 election, winning 90 of the Australian House of Representatives seats to the Labor Party's 55. The Greens retained their one seat in the chamber, with Bob Katter of Katter's Australian Party also returned. Two independents won seats in the House of Representatives and the seat of Fairfax fell from the Nationals to Clive Palmer, leader of the newly formed Palmer United Party.
The election was notable for the emergence of the Palmer United Party, which had not contested an election before, but which secured a House of Representatives seat, and two Senators. The Greens, who had operated in alliance with the Labor Party for the preceding three years, lost one senator and a third of their vote under new leader Christine Milne. The party had campaigned heavily against Abbott and promised to block his key election commitment to abolish the carbon tax it had jointly introduced with the Gillard Government.
The Australian Electoral Commission successfully petitioned the High Court for the West Australian Senate election to be declared void, on account of 1375 ballot papers lost during a recount after the election. The initial count had declared the Liberals and Labor winners of four of six seats, with remaining two going to Zhenya Dio Wang of the Palmer United Party, and Labor's Senator Louise Pratt. The faulty recount narrowly gave the final two seats to Wayne Dropulich of the Australian Sports Party, and to the Greens' Senator Scott Ludlam. In February 2014, the High Court ordered a new Senate election for Western Australia.
Governor-General Quentin Bryce officially commissioned the first Abbott Ministry on 18 September 2013. Fifteen of Abbott's ministers had served in the Howard Government. The Leader of the National Party, Warren Truss, became Deputy Prime Minister, Joe Hockey assumed the post of Treasurer and Deputy Liberal Leader Julie Bishop became the first woman appointed Foreign Minister of Australia. Senator Mathias Cormann was promoted to the position of Minister for Finance. Julie Bishop was the only female appointed to the Cabinet, while Abbott backed long-serving MP, Bronwyn Bishop, to become the government candidate for Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives and former Shadow industry minister and Cabinet member, Sophie Mirabella, lost her seat to an independent candidate at the election. Five other women were appointed to posts in the outer ministry, and one of the twelve parliamentary secretaries is female. Philip Ruddock, the longest serving member in the Parliament, was appointed Chief Government Whip. Eric Abetz retained the portfolio of Employment, George Brandis was appointed Attorney-General, Christopher Pyne as Education Minister, and Abbott's former leadership rival Malcolm Turnbull took Communications.
In his speech following the ceremony, Abbott said his government would "strive to govern for all Australians": "We won't forget those who are often marginalised; people with disabilities, Indigenous people and women struggling to combine career and family. We will do our best not to leave anyone behind. We hope to be judged by what we have done rather than by what we have said we will do."
The Abbott ministry was not announced for an unusually long period and the Agence France Presse reported that Abbott had set out to stamp a "markedly different style on government" standing "in stark contrast to the 'chaos' he liked to accuse his Labor predecessors of fomenting as almost hourly soundbites, lengthy press conferences and briefings were cranked out in an effort to control the 24-hour news cycle".
Term of Government
Foreign affairs and trade
Julie Bishop became the first woman to represent Australia as Minister for Foreign Affairs. In Opposition, Abbott and Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop pledged that a Coalition government would shift Australia's foreign policy focus to be "less Geneva, more Jakarta". Prime Minister Abbott chose the Indonesian capital as his first overseas destination following the 2013 election, and travelled to Jakarta on 30 September 2013, to meet with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on 30 September 2013.
In October, Abbott returned to Indonesia to attend his first APEC leaders' summit, to discuss trade and economic relations and meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, US Secretary of State John Kerry and other world leaders. Following the summit, Abbott travelled to Bali, where he laid a wreath at the memorial of the 2002 Bali bombing. He also announced a commitment to extend compensation to Australian victims of terrorist attacks, allowing payments of up to $75,000 to those who suffered in attacks on New York, London, Egypt, Mumbai, Jakarta, Bali and Nairobi since 2001. In Brunei, Abbott also attended the his first East Asia Summit with world leaders, including India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
At the end of October 2013, Abbott travelled to Afghanistan with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten for a special ceremony at the Australian base in Tarin Kowt in Uruzgan. He told a gathering of troops and Afghan leaders that "Australia's longest war is ending. Not with victory, not with defeat, but with, we hope, an Afghanistan that is better for our presence here." Afghan forces were scheduled to take over running of the camp in mid-December.
In 2013, prior to the election of the Abbott Government, US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden had been granted asylum by Russia after handing over large amounts of confidential information from US government databases to world media. Australia-Indonesia diplomatic relations began to suffer in the early months of the Abbott Government, as materials published by The Guardian and ABC suggested that the Rudd Government had spied on the Indonesian President and his wife. The alleged spying had taken place soon after the July 2009 bombing of Jakarta's Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels. Indonesia recalled its ambassador over the affair.
- 2014 North Asian trade mission
In April 2014, Prime Minister Abbott led an trade delegation to Japan, South Korea and China. The three economies accounted for more than half of all of Australia's two-way trade. On the Japanese leg, Abbott was received by Emperor Akihito and, secured the key elements of a free trade agreement with the government of Shinzo Abe. A number of concessions were secured for Australian agricultural exporters, while Australian tariffs on electronics, whitegoods and cars were to be lowered. Negotiations for the agreement began under the Howard Government in 2007. Abbott said, "This is the first time that Japan has negotiated a comprehensive economic partnership agreement or free trade agreement with a major economy, particularly a major economy with a strong agricultural sector." On the South Korean leg of the mission, Abbott signed the Australia Korea Free Trade Agreement (KAFTA) with the government of Park Geun-hye in Seoul. The agreement reduced tariffs on primary products and reset the foreign investment review threshold to more than $1 billion.
The Abbott mission continued on to China where he met with Premier Li Keqiang and President Xi Jinping. In an address to the Boao Forum, Abbott said "Team Australia" is in China to "help build the Asian century". He was accompanied by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Trade Minister Andrew Robb, five of Australia's state premiers, and 30 of the country's senior business executives, which he described as "one of the most important delegations ever to leave Australia". In the discussions, Abbott pushed for an Australia-China free trade deal with China by the end of the year. He also discussed the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, being led by Australia. Abbott announced military co-operation between the two nations would be developed to include high-level meetings, staff exchanges and joint exercises. He also announced that President Xi would address the Australian Parliament in 2015.
Prior to the 2013 election, Abbott promised that he would prioritise indigenous affairs by placing it within the department of prime minister and cabinet, saying: "There will be, in effect, a prime minister for Aboriginal affairs". Following the Election, Northern Territory Senator Nigel Scullion was appointed the Minister for Indigenous Affairs in the Abbott Ministry. Abbott reformed the administration of the portfolio, making it a single portfolio, where it had been one of several responsibilities of the Indigenous affairs minister and other ministers in previous governments, and moved it into the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Scullion, a former professional fisherman, was also elected Leader of the Nationals in the Senate.
Speaking at the Welcome to Country ceremony to mark the opening of the 44th Parliament, Abbott spoke of hope that Australia could soon have an Aboriginal prime minister, noting that the 44th parliament would have two indigenous members, and that Adam Giles was serving as the first indigenous leader of a state or territory. Abbot said "we certainly can have in this parliament, or the next, full recognition of indigenous people in the Constitution of our country".
Abbott's promised Indigenous Advisory Council was announced in November. The council was to meet three times a year with the Prime Minister and senior ministers to advise the government on policy implementation. Aimed at sparking "new engagement" with indigenous Australians, the 12 member council was headed by Warren Mundine. In December 2013 the government announced that was unlikely to provide further funding for the elected National Congress of Australia's First Peoples, which had been established in 2010 as the national representative body for Indigenous Australians. The government also reduced funding to the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services and associated policy officer positions in state governments, but not by as much as it had committed to during the election campaign.
In his February 2014 "Closing the Gap" report to Parliament, Abbott said that Australia was failing to meet the "more important and the more meaningful targets" of reducing Indigenous disadvantage, and proposed to add a new target to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous school attendance within five years.
Joe Hockey, a former Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations in the Howard Government, became Treasurer of Australia, and Senator Mathias Cormann became Finance Minister in the Abbott Government. Hockey had himself been a contender for the leadership of the Liberal Party in the ballot that saw Abbott win the role in 2009. Cormann had served as Shadow Assistant Treasurer and Shadow Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation. At a 27 September Press Conference Hockey said the government faced a challenge to sustain growth as the mining investment boom deflates, and indicated that the government was considering ways to stimulate infrastructure spending. 
The 2014 Australian federal budget was released on 13 May.
The Abbott government refused to call for a Royal Commission into financial planner misconduct at the Commonwealth Bank after a Senate Committee Review into the matter found gross exploitation of bank customers. In spite of the detailed exploitation of customers, the government intends to remove customer protections, allow advisers to earn sales commission and other so-called "conflicted remuneration" from providing general financial advice, and remove the requirement for financial advisers to tell customers how much they are receiving in commissions every year and give them the chance to opt out of the arrangements every second year. This is in addition to removing the laws that require financial advisers to act in the best interest of their clients, and the requirement that they provide clients with a statement of the fees they'll be charged each year.
At the 2013 election, Abbott proposed a plan for $5.5 billion paid parental leave scheme to provide parents with 26 weeks' paid leave, at full replacement wage up to an annual salary of $150,000 (or a maximum of $75,000) – or the minimum wage if it is greater. The wage replacement strategy was designed to be an economic driver and boost female workforce participation rates and was intended to replace the Gillard Government's $1.8 billion scheme, introduced in January 2011. The Rudd Government campaigned against the reform.
In Opposition, Abbott's Coalition had voted against a same-sex marriage bill put to the Parliament, but in office Abbott indicated that, while he personally opposed redefinition of marriage, if a bill were to come before the new parliament, the Coalition party room would discuss its stance on the issue. In December 2013, Liberal Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he thought it "very likely" that the new parliament would consider a private member's bill and that the Coalition party room would agree to a conscience vote on the issue. Attorney General George Brandis had challenged the ACT Legislative Assembly's unilateral recognition of same-sex marriage as being inconsistent with the Federal Marriage Act and therefore unconstitutional, a view which was upheld by the High Court on 12 December 2013.
Disaster recovery assistance
One day after the 2013 New South Wales Bushfires destroyed 200 homes in the Blue Mountains, the Abbott Government reduced criteria for receipt of the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment, removing financial assistance for evacuees.
Scott Morrison was appointed Minister for Immigration and Border Protection in the Abbott Ministry. In Opposition, the Coalition had been highly critical of the Labor Government's handling of Asylum Seeker policy, and Morrison was tasked with managing the government's efforts at stemming the flow of deaths at sea, and unauthorised boat arrivals from Indonesia. Campaigning for office, Morrison said that the Coalition "has always believed in immigration as one of the great nation building planks of policy" and that it would undertake measures to restore confidence in Australia's immigration program. The Abbott led Opposition had opposed the Labor government's tightening of restrictions on 457 Skilled Migrant visas, and pledged that in government, it would repeal the law and issue more 457 visas, to stimulate economic growth.
On 17 September, the incoming government announced the selection of the Deputy Chief of Army, Angus Campbell, who had also served as the deputy national security advisor in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, to lead the Abbott government's border protection operations, dubbed Operation Sovereign Borders.
The Government instigated a policy of turning back boats where it was judged "safe to do so". On 14 January 2014, the immigration minister announced the closure of four mainland detention centres. On 4 February 2014, Morrison announced that no asylum seeker boats had reached Australia for 36 days, which was the longest stretch in almost five years. "This is the longest period of no illegal boat arrivals since March of 2009, when arrivals first started to significantly escalate as a consequence of the former Labor Government's decision to abolish the strong border protection regime they inherited from the Howard Government", Morrison told reporters.
The Government apologised to Indonesia after Royal Australian Navy ships performing border protection tasks entered the country's waters on six occasions during December 2013 and January 2014. The Indonesian Government stated that the violations occurred as a result of the government's policy of turning back boats, and the incidents led to a deterioration in the relationship between the Australian Defence Force and the Indonesian National Armed Forces.
The Abbott government claimed Sri Lanka is "at peace" after two boat loads of 153 Tamil refugees disappeared between Sri Lanka and Australia. It was later revealed that the Abbott government has returned Tamil asylum seekers to Sir Lanka despite the Abbott government alleging the country is responsible for government-sponsored torture, abuse and mistreatment by police and security forces.
The government refused to let Leo Seemanpillai's parents, who have been in a refugee camp for two decades, come to Australia temporarily for his funeral after he burned himself to death. Another two people attempted suicide the same way within a month of Seemanpillai's death, to avoid being sent back to Sri Lanka.
On 17 February 2014 there was a riot in the Manus Island detention centre. Papua New Guinea Police claim that the report the government produced was a cover-up, with witness statements directly contradicting the report. The government furthermore lied by claiming asylum claims were being processed in the lead up to the Manus Island riots, which did not occur.
In the 2013 election campaign, Abbott said he wanted to be known as an "infrastructure prime minister". On 19 September, Abbot joined NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell to jointly launch the 33 km WestConnex motorway for Sydney. On 15 April 2014, the Abbott government announced approval for a second Sydney airport at Badgerys Creek, 50 kilometres west of Sydney's CBD, and to develop accompanying integrated infrastructure. The announcement of the $2.5 billion project ended years of uncertainty over the site, which had been purchased[when?] by the Hawke Government. Abbott predicted that the project would create 60,000 new jobs for western Sydney by the time the airport was fully operational.
While in opposition, Abbott attacked public transport, calling for less investment in "inefficient, over-manned, union-dominated, government-run train and bus systems", because "cars facilitated a sense of personal mastery public transport never would", saying "The humblest person is king in his own car."
National Broadband Network
In Opposition, the Abbott-led Coalition was critical of the Labor Government's National Broadband Network policy, and proposed to deliver "a cheaper version, more efficiently", by funding a technologically inferior fibre to the node network, rather than Labor's primarily fibre to the premises network. In opposition, the Coalition promised their alternative would deliver a minimum 25Mbps to 100% of premises by 2016 and a minimum 50Mbps to 100% of premises by 2019, requiring peak funding of $29.5bn. This compared to the the previous Government's NBN target of 100Mbps to 93% of premises by 2021 and 25Mbps to the remaining 7% of premises by 2016, with peak funding of $44bn. Social media activists attacked the Coalition's plan, describing it as "fraudband".
Following the 2013 election, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull assumed responsibility for management of the network, and invited the Labor appointed board of NBN Co to offer their resignations and announced a strategic review of the project. The review found that the Coalition's NBN would require funding of $41bn (up from $29.5bn) and that 44% of premises would receive 25Mbps by 2016 (down from 100%). Turnbull, a former Rhodes Scholar and successful businessman, had previously worked in the field of internet communications, being a co-founder of OzEmail.
Greg Hunt was appointed Minister for the Environment. Hunt, a former Fulbright scholar, and human rights and development activist with the United Nations, had held the Shadow portfolio under successive Liberal leaders. The Abbott led Opposition campaigned on a promise of replacing the Rudd-Gillard Government's carbon pricing system with a "direct action against climate change" policy. Prior to becoming Opposition Leader, Abbott initially supported proposals by Liberal leaders John Howard and Malcolm Turnbull to introduce floating prices to reduce carbon emissions, but also expressed some doubts as to the science and economics underlying such initiatives. On the eve of the 2013 election, Abbott told the ABC:
[J]ust to make it clear... I think that climate change is real, humanity makes a contribution. It's important to take strong and effective action against it, and that is what our direct action policy does... The important thing is to take strong and effective action to tackle climate change, action that doesn't damage our economy. And that is why the incentive-based system that we've got, the direct action policies, which are quite similar to those that president Obama has put into practice, is – that's the smart way to deal with this, a big tax is a dumb way to deal with it.
— Tony Abbott on ABC Insiders prior to 2013 election
On 19 September, Hunt abolished the advisory Climate Commission, stating that this move formed "part of the Coalition's plans to streamline government processes and avoid duplication of services" and that the Department of the Environment would take on its role. Hunt has also stated that the government will abolish the Climate Change Authority and Clean Energy Finance Corporation. In October Abbott and Hunt disputed statements from Christiana Figueres, the head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, that the 2013 New South Wales bushfires were probably linked to climate change and that the government's Direct Action policy would be harmful, with Abbott stating that Figueres was "talking through her hat".
This Government also cancelled meetings with the head of the International Monetary Fund and the president of the World Bank because Mr. Abbott will be[timeframe?] told that the government's support for fossil fuels will heavily damage our economy in the long run. Similarly, the Abbott government did not send a ministerial delegate to the 2013 Warsaw climate summit. In June 2014 the Abbott government lost a bid to have part of Tasmania's World Heritage forest de-listed from UNESCO's World Heritage programme.
Peter Dutton became Minister for Health and Sport, the latter portfolio being elevated to Cabinet for the first time. The Abbott Government was elected in the early stages of implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which had been introduced by Julia Gillard, and for which the Coalition had offered bi-partisan support.
The 2014 budget reduces the Commonwealth's share of hospital funding by $15 billion by 2024, with the majority of the cuts beginning in 2017, despite a pre-election commitment of no cuts to health.
The Abbott government plans to introduce a $7 co-payment for general practitioner (GP) visits and clinical pathology. The proceeds will go towards a medical research fund. Since the announcement there has been a collapse in private medical research donations for medical research. It later emerged that the government had failed to model the impacts of the new GP fee including the impacts on hospital emergency room waiting times and medical research.
Christopher Pyne was appointed as Minister for Education. Pyne, who has served as an MP since the age of 25, was also chosen to be Leader of the Government in the House of Representatives by Abbott. He assumed the education portfolio during the early stages of implementation of the school funding reforms inspired by the Gonski review, and introduced by the Gillard-Rudd Governments, for which the Abbott led Opposition had pledged to match the Labor government's proposed funding for the next four years in August 2013 after initially opposing the measures. On 24 November 2013 Pyne announced that the Government was reviewing all aspects of the Gonski funding agreements on the grounds that they were "a shambles and quite unimplementable", and inferior to the model in place under the Howard Government. Following protests from the state governments that had signed funding agreements, Abbott announced on 2 December that the government would still provide the funding that the Labor government had committed to over a four-year period, but the states would no longer be required to raise their funding or make other reforms, on the grounds that the government did not want to "try to run public schools out of Canberra".
Professor Pasi Sahlberg of Harvard University condemned the Abbott government for allowing the Australian education to lose its equity as it has become increasingly segregated between public and private schools. Professor Sahlberg was "surprised" the Abbott government had reduced its commitment to the Gonski funding model.
The Abbott government set aside $245 million for religious chaplains in schools. Secular schools were stripped of the option of hiring a secular equivalent. The chaplains were "explicitly anti-gay" in hundreds of cases, so much so that "pray the gay away" became a common theme in the chaplaincy programme, which Senator Louise Pratt highlighted.
University and TAFE deregulation
The Abbott government announced in the 2014 budget the deregulation of universities and TAFEs. Furthermore the amount of public funding for university courses will be reduced by 20% and expose students to big increases in their student debts with the removal of all caps on the fees universities can charge. Student debts will be compounded at the 10 year bond rate with a cap at 6% (it has historically been typically above 6%) instead of the consumer price index. Total government higher education funding is projected to be $9.5 billion by 2017-18. While this is a nominal increase of $750 million compared with 2012-13, analysis by Guardian Australia shows it represents a cut of about $1.5 billion in real terms when population growth and inflation are taken into account. The government then claimed that removing the upper limit on university fees will cause fees to decrease. This contradicts the designer of the HECS system, Bruce Chapman, who has warned student debts will triple.
Following the announcement of increases to student debts, the prime minister Tony Abbott cancelled an appearance at Deakin University citing Australian Federal Police (AFP) security concerns. It was later revealed that the AFP did not advise Abbott to cancel the visit.
Freedom of information
The government moved to abolish the role of Freedom of Information Commissioner, abolish the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner and charge $800 for reviews of "freedom of information" request denials.
The Abbott government has refused to publish any submissions it received for or against the proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act, even though the government says the changes are to protect free speech. The government has also refused to state what proportion of submissions supported the changes. The government defended this secrecy by claiming that all submissions were made with the expectation of confidentiality. However the Senate Inquiry Submission Guidelines state that to make a Senate Inquiry Submission confidential, you must explicitly justify a request for confidentiality and such requests may be denied.
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- Paul Farrel, 'Australia's right to know is under assault'Wednesday 25 June 2014 13.23 AEST http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jun/25/australias-right-to-know-is-under-assault