Malcolm Turnbull on Monday became Australia’s fourth prime minister in two years after deposing incumbent Tony Abbott in a stunning political shift that will likely have policy reverberations in Europe. Australia is now expected to re-embrace many of the climate-change policies that endeared its previous Labor administration to EU officials.
Turnbull defeated Abbott by 54 votes to 44 among members of parliament from the Liberal party (the post of prime minister is not directly elected). While Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop retains her position, Turnbull is set to begin an immediate policy overhaul that will affect EU-Australia relations.
Turnbull may also order a new Australian negotiating strategy for the COP21 climate summit in Paris.
One senior EU energy official told POLITICO there is “now hope for climate and Australia’s role in the world, and so many more things.”
Turnbull is also the leading supporter in Australian politics of an EU-Australia free trade agreement. Abbott, a noted Euroskeptic, had been slow to seize the opportunity to start negotiations on such an agreement.This position has infuriated officials from both the Commission and New Zealand (the EU wants to negotiate deals with both countries in parallel), as the Commission is usually able to press the smaller partner in any trade deal to pivot around its own scheduling and political needs.
Turnbull’s victory is the latest twist in a decades-long rivalry with Abbott. The pair went head-to-head in Australia’s 1999 referendum on whether to remove Queen Elizabeth as head of state and become a republic. In that battle, Abbott’s support for a constitutional monarchy trumped Turnbull’s republicanism.