Abbott Government

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The Honourable
Tony Abbott
Tony Abbott - 2010.jpg
Prime Minister of Australia
In office
18 September 2013 – 15 September 2015
Monarch Elizabeth II
Governor-General Dame Quentin Bryce
Sir Peter Cosgrove
Deputy Warren Truss
Preceded by Kevin Rudd
Succeeded by Malcolm Turnbull
Prime Minister Tony Abbott.jpg This article is part of a series about
Tony Abbott

Prime Minister of Australia

Tony Abbott Signature.png
Australian Coat of Arms.png

The Abbott Government was the federal executive government of Australia led by Prime Minister Tony Abbott. The Government was made up of members of the Liberal–National Coalition. Following the 2013 Australian federal election on 7 September, the Coalition defeated the second Rudd Government, ending six years of Labor Government. The Abbott Government was sworn into office on 18 September 2013.[1] Less than two years later on 14 September 2015, Malcolm Turnbull defeated Abbott in a leadership ballot, 54 votes to 44. Abbott is the shortest-serving Australian Prime Minister since William McMahon. The Abbott Government was succeeded by the Turnbull Government.


Senior members of the government following their swearing-in ceremony: Warren Truss, Tony Abbott, Julie Bishop, and Eric Abetz.

The Liberal–National coalition, led by Abbott, won the 2013 Australian federal election, returning their Coalition to power after six years in opposition. Abbott, a Rhodes Scholar, and former trainee Catholic priest, 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 Australian Labor Party, led by Kevin Rudd. 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Rudd did not complete his first term in office, having been replaced by Julia Gillard following an internal Labor party leadership vote in June 2010.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 narrowly retain office by forming a minority government with the support of four crossbench MPs after the election produced a hung parliament.[2] 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".[3][4] 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."[5]

2013 election[edit]

The Liberal Party under Abbott, together with the National Party, led by Warren Truss, achieved a 3.65-point two-party-preferred swing at the 2013 election, winning 90 of the Australian House of Representatives seats compared with the Labor Party's 55.[6] 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, and the seat of Fairfax fell from the Nationals to Clive Palmer, leader of the newly formed Palmer United Party.[6]

The emergence of the fledgling Palmer United Party was a notable feature of the election. The new party secured a House of Representatives seat and three senators (although two senators subsequently split from the party).[7] The Greens, which had been in alliance with Labor 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.[8][9][10]

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 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.[11][12]


Tony Abbott is sworn in by Governor-General Quentin Bryce
The Abbott government after being commissioned by Quentin Bryce on 18 September 2013.

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.

Of the three female members of the Abbott Shadow Cabinet, Julie Bishop retained her position in Foreign Affairs following the 2013 election, while Bronwyn Bishop became Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives, and the Shadow Industry Minister Sophie Mirabella lost her seat at the election. Bronwyn Bishop resigned as Speaker in 2015. Julie Bishop remained the only woman in Cabinet until Sussan Ley was appointed to Cabinet to replace Peter Dutton as Health and Sport Minister in 2014 when Dutton was made Immigration Minister in Abbott's Cabinet revision. Five other women were appointed to posts in the outer ministry, and one of the twelve parliamentary secretaries is female.[13][14] Philip Ruddock, the longest serving member in the Parliament, was appointed Chief Government Whip.[15] 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.[15]

In his speech following his swearing-in ceremony, Abbott said his government would "strive to govern for all Australians":[16] "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".[17]

The first Abbott ministry divided responsilbilities for science between the portfolios of Education, under Christopher Pyne, and Industry, under Ian McFarlane. This was reported as the first ministry since 1931 to be without a dedicated Minister for Science. This drew criticism from scientific organisations including the Australian Academy of Science.[18][19] The December 2014 Cabinet reshuffle saw the title Science restored, under Ian McFarlane's Ministry of Industry and Science.[20]

Term of government[edit]

Foreign affairs and trade[edit]

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, Julie Bishop.

Julie Bishop became the first woman to represent Australia as Minister for Foreign Affairs. In Opposition, Abbott and Bishop pledged that a Coalition government would shift Australia's foreign policy focus to be "less Geneva, more Jakarta".[21] 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.[22]

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 A$75,000 to those who suffered in attacks on New York, London, Egypt, Mumbai, Jakarta, Bali and Nairobi since 2001.[23] In Brunei, Abbott also attended the his first East Asia Summit with world leaders, including India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.[24]

2014 North Asian trade agreements[edit]

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan. The Abbott government concluded the Japan–Australia Economic Partnership Agreement with Abe in July 2014.

In April 2014, Prime Minister Abbott led a trade delegation to Japan, South Korea and China. The three economies accounted for more than half of all of Australia's two-way trade.[25] 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.[26] 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."[27] Prime Minister Abe traveled to Australia in July to sign the Japan–Australia Economic Partnership Agreement, and address the Australian Parliament.[28]

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.[29]

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.[30] 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.[31]

Shooting down of MH17[edit]

Following the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July 2014 over Ukraine in an apparent missile attack amid the 2014 Russian military intervention in Ukraine, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Australia's UN Ambassador Gary Quinlan led negotiations at the United Nations Security Council to adopt a unanimous resolution, tabled by Australia, that demanded that the armed groups in control of the crash site refrain from interfering with it and allow for the repatriation of victims and an international investigation into the attack.[32] Bishop was honoured by The Netherlands for her role in securing the resolution and investigation.[33]

The downing of the flight had resulted in 298 deaths, including 38 Australian citizens and residents. In the lead up to the 2014 G20 meeting in Brisbane, Tony Abbott focused world attention on Russia's role in the shooting down of the civilian plane. In a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the APEC meeting in Beijing, Abbott reportedly told the president that Australia had information that the missile that destroyed the plane had Russian origin and that Russia should consider apologising and offering appropriate restitution to the victims of the shooting. Russia continued to deny involvement.[34]


The government continued the withdrawal of Australia's military commitment to the Afghanistan conflict, and continued defence co-operation with various regional players. In 2014, the government announced the investment of $12 billion in F-35 joint strike fighters.[35]

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.[36][37]

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.[38] Australian–Indonesian diplomatic relations began to suffer in the early months of the government, as The Guardian and ABC News began to publish material, which had been made public due to Snowden's leaking, suggesting that Australian spy agencies during the term of the previous government had spied on the Indonesian President and his wife.[39] The alleged spying had taken place soon after the July 2009 bombing of Jakarta's Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels.[40] Indonesia recalled its ambassador over the affair.[41]

Tony Abbott with US Secretary of State John Kerry in June 2014.

On 8 March 2014 Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared and presumably crashed somewhere in the Indian ocean, within Australia's search and rescue zone. Consequently, the Chinese and Australian militaries co-operated in the search for the missing plane, and in April 2014 the People's Liberation Army asked to operate under Australian command in the largest international exercises in which it had ever participated. The Fairfax press reported: "It is believed to be the first time the PLA would operate under Western command in a military exercise".[42] Abbott met with US President Barack Obama in June 2014, in Washington, and approved a legal agreement for the deployment of around 1,300 US Marines to the Northern Territory, first proposed under the Gillard Government.[43] Abbott also moved to strengthen economic and defence ties with Japan, signing the Japan–Australia Economic Partnership Agreement and inviting Shinzo Abe to address Parliament and announcing a transfer of defence technology and equipment would be included in it.[44]


The government was concerned as early as August 2014 that the Indonesian militant Islamist terror group Jemaah Islamiah has aligned itself to ISIL, and formed a potential threat.[45] In September 2014, the government raised Australia's terror alert level from medium to high.[46] In October 2014, the Federal cabinet approved the decision to launch air strikes in Iraq in response to concerns over ISIL militant groups.[47][48]

Following ISIL inspired terror attacks on 26 June 2015, Abbott stated that ISIL is "coming after us."[49] In July, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull told the Sydney Institute that ISIL is not “Hitler’s Germany, Tojo’s Japan or Stalin’s Russia” and that government should not amplify its significance.[50][51]


In 2015, the cabinet debated giving the immigration minister new powers to strip dual nationals of their citizenship if they are supporters of terrorist organizations.[52] A cabinet leak revealed that senior ministers were divided on the proposal, which Cory Bernardi described as "dangerous power creep".[53][54] After a follow-up cabinet meeting, a leak emerged that Abbott had warned his cabinet against leaks.[55][56] Julie Bishop[57] and Malcolm Turnbull[58] denied being the source of the leaks, and Joe Hockey was not in the room.[59] Later, an internal four-page briefing document from the Prime Minister's office was leaked, revealing a strategy to attack the opposition as indecisive over anti-terror legislation. Bret Walker suggested the proposed changes would be unconstitutional.[60]

Indigenous affairs[edit]

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".[3] 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.[61] Scullion, a former professional fisherman, was also elected Leader of the Nationals in the Senate.[62][63]

The government has planned to cut a further $600 million from Indigenous programs, in addition to the $534 million cuts in the 2014 budget.[64][65]

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. Abbott said "we certainly can have in this parliament, or the next, full recognition of indigenous people in the Constitution of our country".[66]

Abbott's promised Indigenous Advisory Council was announced in November.[67] 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.[68][69][70] 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.[71][72] 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.[73]

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.[74]

Economic policy[edit]

2013 Election

Launching his campaign for the 2013 Election, Tony Abbott outlined the economic priorities of the Coalition, promising to tackle government debt, eliminate "waste" in government expenditure, and decrease taxes which place a burden on industry and business:

We'll build a stronger economy so everyone can get ahead. We'll scrap the carbon tax so your family will be $550 a year better off. We'll get the budget back under control by ending Labor's waste... And we'll build the roads of the 21st century because I hope to be an infrastructure prime minister who puts bulldozers on the ground and cranes into our skies.[...] The current government has turned $50 billion in the bank into debt spiralling towards $400 billion that our children and grandchildren will struggle to repay. We can't go on like this.[75]
— Tony Abbott campaign launch speech, 2013.

Abbott promised to "cut red tape" and reduce the company tax rate. He committed to abolishing the carbon tax, in order to bring down power and gas prices, and to abolishing the mining tax to increase investment and employment. On industrial relations, he promised to "move the workplace relations pendulum back to the sensible centre, restore a strong cop-on-the-beat in the construction industry, and hit dodgy union officials with the same penalties as corporate crooks."[75]


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.[76] Cormann had served as Shadow Assistant Treasurer and Shadow Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation.[77] At a 27 September media 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. [78] Within the first year of their economic stewardship there were 790,000 people unemployed, with an unemployment rate of 6.4% – a 12-year high and an increase of 0.7 points from the time the government came to office.[79] Youth unemployment rose to a 17-year high. Hockey, eleven months after coming to office, blamed the steep rise in unemployment during his stewardship on the former government.[79]

The 2014 federal budget was released on 13 May. In 2015, the Department of Treasury released an intergenerational report, assessing the long-term sustainability of government policies based on demographic projections of Australia's population.[80][81][82][83] In April, Peter Costello published an opinion piece in the Daily Telegraph describing proposed tax changes as a "morbid joke".[84][85][86]

2014 budget[edit]

In May 2014, Joe Hockey delivered his first Federal Budget. Hockey told Parliament: "On the back of five budget deficits in a row we have inherited a further $123 billion of deficits and debt rising to $667 billion. This challenge is not of our making, but we, the women and men behind me, accept responsibility to fix it."[87] Hockey outlined a number of proposed expenditure reductions, the abolition of the carbon and mining taxes, a Temporary Budget Repair Levy on high income earners, structural reforms to welfare and university education expenditure, the reintroduction of the fuel excise levy, and the establishment of a $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund, funded by the introduction of a $7 Medicare co-contribution. Hockey predicted, that if the measures were implemented, the budget deficit would fall from $49.9 billion to $29.8 billion over the next year.[87]

On Budget night, economist Chris Richardson told the ABC 7.30 programme that the Budget was "a solid start towards the planned surplus while it promises some political tussles ahead."[88] Prior to the 2013 Election, Tony Abbott told SBS Television that there would be: "No cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or SBS."[89] The Fairfax Press reported May that a number of Budget measures broke pre-election commitments and promises made by the Liberals in opposition.[90] On 19 May, New Limited reported that "According to Newspoll, nearly half of voters said the measures will be lousy for the economy, and more than 60 per cent told a separate Nielsen survey the Budget was unfair."[91][92][93]

A number of savings and revenue measures in the Budget were opposed by Labor, the Greens and cross benches in the Senate.[94] In his Budget in reply speech, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said that Labor would oppose around $13 billion worth of cuts and tax hikes, including the changes to university funding.[95] Initially Labor joined the Greens in opposing the reintroduction of a fuel excise levy, delaying passage of the measure until June 2015.[96] Labor and the Greens opposed the Coalition's promised abolition of carbon pricing, and the introduction of "direct action" carbon-reduction policies, but the Government secured cross bench support for the repeal of the tax in July, 2014.[97] Labor and the Greens opposed abolition of the Rudd-Gillard mining tax, but it was repealed with the support of the Palmer United Party in September.[98] The Government was unable to secure passage of its expanded Paid Parental Leave Scheme, or medicare co-contribution and the measures were scrapped. Education Minister Christopher Pyne continues to negotiate for passage of university funding reforms, but the measures are not supported by the Opposition and minor parties.

This budget has been described as "the beginning of the end" for the Abbott Government.[99]

2015 Budget[edit]

In his 2015 Budget Speech, Hockey said: "On the economic front, iron ore prices have fallen dramatically and the recovery in the global economy has been weaker than expected. But I say to you, the economic plan laid down by this government more than a year ago, is in place and it is helping us to deal with these challenges." Hockey proposed significant new small business tax concessions, and said the government would increase funding for development of Australia's north, drought assistance, jobseeker assistance, national security and medical research. The GST was to be revised to include digital purchases[100]

The ABC reported that Hockey's second budget would see a $35 billion deficit for 2015-16, with a fall to $7 billion by 2018-19. The ABC noted that Hockey had pledged $5.5 billion for small businesses and that small business would receive a 100% tax write off for assets costing less than $20,000. A crackdown on welfare fraud would bring in $1.7 billion over forward estimates, and the fight against ISIS would receive better funding.[101]

Financial services policy[edit]

The Abbott government has so far (as of August 2014) refused calls for a royal commission into financial planner misconduct at the Commonwealth Bank (one of the largest financial service providers in Australia) after a senate committee review into the matter found gross exploitation of bank customers.[102] The government, which favours deregulation, intends to remove customer protections in the sector; 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.[103] This was 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.[104][105]

Social policy[edit]

Parental leave scheme[edit]

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 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.[106]

Same sex marriage[edit]

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, the Liberals Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he thought it was "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.[107] 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.[108][109]

Disaster recovery assistance[edit]

One day after the 2013 New South Wales Bushfires destroyed 200 homes in the Blue Mountains to the west of Sydney, the government eased the criteria for receipt of the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment, removing financial assistance for evacuees.[110]


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.[111] An analysis by former Immigration Department chief John Menadue and Australian National University migration expert Peter Hughes regards the downturn in boat arrivals to have begun after the Second Rudd Government announcement that asylum seekers would not be settled in Australia, and other measures undertaken by the Rudd Government to resettle refugees elsewhere.[112]

Asylum seekers[edit]

Immigration detention population to December 2014

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.[113] In December 2014 the Abbott government passed the Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014 (Cth)[114] giving the immigration minister unprecedented powers to control the lives of asylum seekers.[115]

The government instituted 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.[116] 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.[117]

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.[118] The Indonesian government stated that the violations occurred as a result of the Abbott government's policy of turning back boats; the incidents led to a deterioration in the relationship between the Australian Defence Force and the Indonesian National Armed Forces.[119]

On 17 February 2014 there was a riot in the Manus Island detention centre. The riot occurred amid concerns by asylum seekers in detention that their claims were not being processed. The Australian[clarification needed] claimed that asylum claims were being processed in the lead up to the Manus Island riots.[citation needed] It has since been reported that no such processing was occurring.[120][121]

In July 2014 two boats, with a total of about 200 Tamil refugees, disappeared between Sri Lanka and Australia. It was later revealed that the Abbott government had returned Tamil asylum seekers to Sri Lanka despite the Australian government having alleged previously that Sri Lanka had been "responsible for government-sponsored torture, abuse and mistreatment by police and security forces".[122][123]

In the government's first year they spent $120,000 on domestic media monitoring on immigration and asylum seekers in the face of criticism for being an overtly secretive area of government.[124]


In the 2013 election campaign, Abbott said he wanted to be known as an "infrastructure prime minister".[125] On 19 September, Abbott joined NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell to jointly launch the 33-kilometre (21 mi) WestConnex motorway for Sydney.[126] On 15 April 2014, the Abbott government announced approval for a second Sydney airport at Badgerys Creek, 50 kilometres (31 mi) west of Sydney's CBD, and to develop accompanying integrated infrastructure. The announcement of the A$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.[127]

Public transport[edit]

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."[128]

In office, the Abbott government has made road funding a priority over public transport and withdrew funding for planned public transport projects.[129][130]

Media and Communications[edit]

Malcolm Turnbull took up the role of Minister for Communications following the election of the Abbott Government. On the 14th of September, 2015, Turnbull resigned the position in order to challenge Abbott's leadership of the Liberal Party. As of that date, the position remained vacant.

National Broadband Network[edit]

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 25 Mbit/s to 100% of premises by 2016 and a minimum 50 Mbit/s to 100% of premises by 2019, requiring peak funding of $29.5bn.[131] This compared to the previous government's NBN target of 100Mbit/s to 93% of premises by 2021 and 25Mbit/s 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".[132]

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.[133] The review found that the Coalition's NBN would require funding of $41bn (up from $29.5bn) and that 44% of premises would receive 25Mbit/s by 2016 (down from 100%).[134] Turnbull, a former Rhodes Scholar and successful businessman, had previously worked in the field of internet communications, being a co-founder of OzEmail.[135]

On 15 December 2014, the government announced that it had struck a deal with the nation's largest telecommunications provider, Telstra, to gradually acquire Telstra's copper fixed-line network for a total cost of A$11 billion.[136] The government was able to effectively re-negotiate the former government's NBN deal with Telstra, at no additional cost to taxpayers.

Media relations[edit]

Fairfax Press and Abbott Government

In May 2015, Fairfax political correspondent Peter Hartcher made allegations against Tony Abbott, claiming falsely that he had snubbed the gay partner of an ambassador in Paris. Parliamentary Secretary Alan Tudge described the front page article as a “disgraceful smear”.[137] In July 2015, a court found that the Fairfax Press had defamed Treasurer Joe Hockey, and found Darren Goodsir, the Sydney Morning Herald’s editor in chief, was "motivated by malice" in the matter.[138] In August 2015, the ABC Media Watch programme reported that a front-page of The Age newspaper "ripped into the recent war record of former SAS captain Andrew Hastie, Liberal candidate in the 2015 Canning by-election, which could be crucial to Tony Abbott’s future" and found the coverage to be "both unfair and misleading", and likened it to the Hockey defamation case.[139] In a 29 August article, Peter Hartcher incorrectly asserted that Tony Abbott was involved in the decision to launch a planned Border Force operation in Melbourne.[140] On 1 September, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said Fairfax Media were conducting "a bit of a jihad" against the Government, and that there was a "huge move by Fairfax at the moment to try and bring the Government down...[and Fairfax is] being helped by the ABC".[141]

ABC & Abbott Government

In a Treasurer's debate in the lead up to the 2013 Election, Shadow Treasurer Hockey told the QandA programme that the Coalition wanted to reduce waste in Government spending and indicated that spending on the ABC would be reviewed: host Tony Jones asked Hockey if the ABC would be immune from cuts and Hockey responded: "I’d just say to you is there any waste in the ABC at all, Tony?"[142] On the eve of the Election, Tony Abbott said cuts were not planned, telling SBS Television "No cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or SBS."[143] In November 2014, Communications Minister Turnbull said that the ABC and SBS, as public broadcasters, should not be exempt from spending cuts that applied to almost all other government departments and services. Turnbull said that the ABC would receive a cut of 4.6 per cent budget cut over the coming five years.[144]

In early 2015, an internal ABC review of its coverage of the first Hockey Budget was conducted by Colleen Ryan, a former editor of The Australian Financial Review. The audit criticised the post-budget interview conducted by the broadcaster's flagship current affairs shows 7:30 and Lateline. It found that the 7:30 interview by Sarah Ferguson showed how "perceptions of bias could be inflamed unnecessarily" and said that Ferguson did not appear to show the Treasurer enough respect. The auditor found that Lateline host Emma Alberici could also have given the impression of bias by asking a Coalition MP: "Do you think voters are really stupid and can't recognise a lie when they see one?"[145]

In June 2015, Tony Abbott initiated a brief ministerial boycott of the ABC's QandA programme, after it arranged for Zaky Mallah to ask a question of an Abbott Government minister from its live studio audience.[146] Mallah had been jailed for threatening federal government officials in 2003, and had posted violent comments about conservative female journalists on Twitter. On-air, Mallah said "The Liberals now have just justified to many Australian Muslims in the community tonight to leave and go to Syria and join ISIL".[147] Amid much criticism from Coalition politicians, the ABC said there had been an "error of judgement' in the matter, but repeated the programme later in the week, prompting Tony Abbott to say that "heads should roll at the ABC" over the affair.[148]


Greg Hunt was appointed Minister for the Environment.[15] Hunt, a former Fulbright scholar, and human rights and development activist with the United Nations, had held the Shadow portfolio under successive Liberal leaders.[149] The portfolio of Climate Change was abolished. 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. In July 2014, the Abbott Government followed through with this commitment, becoming the first developed nation to repeal a carbon price and foregoing government revenue of $24 billion from polluters through to 2020.[150] Prior to becoming Opposition Leader, Abbott initially supported proposals by Liberal leaders Howard and 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 stated during an interview on the ABC TV Insiders that:[151]

...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 the ABC TV 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.[152] Hunt has also stated that the government will abolish the Climate Change Authority and Clean Energy Finance Corporation.[153] 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".[154]

In November 2013, the Abbott government made a decision not to send a ministerial delegate to the 2013 Warsaw climate summit.[155] Days later the Abbott government abandoned its longstanding policy to cut emissions by between 5% and 25% of 2000 levels by 2020, stating that the Coalition would only commit to a 5% emissions reduction target.[156]

In December 2013 Environment Minister Greg Hunt controversially approved the dumping of three million cubic metres of dredge spoil in the Great Barrier Marine Park.[157] In the same month the Abbott government defunded Environment Defenders Offices across Australia.[158] In January 2014, Environment Minister Greg Hunt cleared the way for a controversial shark cull in Western Australia by exempting it from federal legislation designed to protect threatened species,[159] while Tony Abbott announced plans to again study the supposed health impacts of wind farms, before the public release of a survey of scientific literature on the issue.[160]

The 2014 Budget proposed to scrap the Australian Renewable Energy Agency which the Coalition repeatedly promised to retain in the lead up to the 2013 Federal Election, dumped the election promise for Million Solar Roofs, cut $484 million from Landcare and the Caring for Our Country programs, provided $1.5 billion for the East-West Link freeway and axed the National Water Commission.[161]

Following on from its decision to fund the Environment Defenders Office, in June 2014 the federal Liberal Party unanimously endorsed a proposal to strip charity status from environmental groups including the Wilderness Society, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Bob Brown Foundation.[162] The same month the Abbott government lost a bid to have part of Tasmania's World Heritage forest de-listed from UNESCO's World Heritage programme, after declaring Australia had too much 'locked up' forest and that loggers were the 'ultimate conservationists'.[163]

"We have quite enough national parks. We have quite enough locked up forests already. In fact, in an important respect, we have too much locked up forest.
— Tony Abbott at timber industry dinner on 4 March 2014.

In 2015, the Abbott government:

  • Attempted to bring climate contrarian Bjorn Lomborg to the University of Western Australia with a $4 million grant [164]
  • Moved to prevent the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation from backing wind energy and household solar projects.[165]
  • Cut the Howard government's Renewable Energy Target and included a provision to include native wood waste as a renewable fuel source[166]
“I do take your point about the potential health impact of these things...when I’ve been up close to these windfarms not only are they visually awful but they make a lot of noise...What we did recently in the Senate was to reduce, Alan, capital R-E-D-U-C-E, the number of these things that we are going to get in the future...I frankly would have liked to have reduced the number a lot more but we got the best deal we could out of the Senate and if we hadn’t had a deal, Alan, we would have been stuck with even more of these things...What we are managing to do through this admittedly imperfect deal with the Senate is to reduce the growth rate of this particular sector as much as the current Senate would allow us to do.”
— Tony Abbott on the Alan Jones radio show, 10 June 2015.

Documents obtained with a Freedom of Information request show that the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet proposed an investigation into the Bureau of Meteorology to address claims in The Australian that the BoM was exaggerating global warming. Environment Minister Greg Hunt argued against the investigation, instead setting up a review forum which found that the Bureau of Meteorology data were accurate.[167]


Peter Dutton became Minister for Health and Sport, the latter portfolio being elevated to Cabinet for the first time.[15] 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 A$15 billion by 2024, with the majority of the cuts beginning in 2017, despite a pre-election commitment of no cuts to health.[168]

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.[169] 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.[170]

In the first term of the Abbott government the Red Cross lost $5 million in annual funding, despite being the only organisation in Australia to collect blood.[171]


Christopher Pyne was appointed as Minister for Education.[15] 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.[172] 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.[173] 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".[174]

In the 2014 budget, the Abbott government set aside $245 million for religious chaplains in schools. Secular schools were stripped of the option of hiring a secular equivalent, as they had been allowed to do under previous funding arrangements.[175] Furthermore, taxpayers would subsidise the training of priests and other religious workers at private colleges for the first time under the Abbott government's proposed higher education reforms.[176] In 2014 it was announced that religious teaching, training and vocational institutes would be eligible for a share of $820 million in new Commonwealth funding over three years.

University and TAFE deregulation[edit]

The Abbott government proposed 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.[177] 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 The Guardian Australia shows it represents a cut of about $1.5 billion in real terms when population growth and inflation are taken into account.[177] The government then claimed that removing the upper limit on university fees will cause fees to decrease.[178] This contradicts the designer of the HECS system, Bruce Chapman, who has warned student debts will triple.[179]

Freedom of information[edit]

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.[180]

2015 Abbott leadership loss[edit]

First leadership challenge[edit]

In February 2015, Liberal MPs Don Randall and Luke Simpkins called a February 2015 spill motion to spill the leadership positions of the party, though with no contender. Abbott won the vote 61 to 39.[181][182][183]

The ABC reported that in the lead up to the motion, the Abbott Government had been facing "leaks and growing media criticism", when Abbott earned the "ire of his colleagues and the derision of many Australians by appointing Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, as a Knight of the Order of Australia", and that the defeat of the Liberal National Party government of Campbell Newman had also disheartened the Coalition.[184] On 5 February, Fairfax had reported that leadership speculation was at "fever pitch" after backbench Senator Arthur Sinodinos questioned Abbott's judgement on Sky News and refused to confirm if the Prime Minister would still hold his job in a week's time.[185] The following day, the ABC's 7.30 reported that "The tensions between the Prime Minister and the colleagues campaigning to oust him are heading to a showdown."[186]

In the months after the failed spill motion, leaking and backgrounding against Abbott continued, but polling for the Coalition initially improved.[187][188] Following the Second Hockey Budget in May 2015, Newspoll placed Abbott’s approval rating at an eight-month high, and in front of Bill Shorten as as better prime minister for the first time in six months.[189]

Second leadership challenge[edit]

On 14 September 2015, Turnbull announced he would challenge Abbott for the Prime Ministership and leadership of the Liberal Party. A September 2015 leadership spill was called, however with a challenger this time, Turnbull defeated Abbott, 54 votes to 44. The Turnbull Government was duly sworn in.[190][191][192][193]

See also[edit]


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