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Will Popular Climate Sceptic Become Australia’s Next Prime Minister?

Most world leaders believe in and stand for action on climate change. Yet if elected, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott would have the dubious honour of joining Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper as the only other head of government – besides the recalcitrant Saudis – in the G20 group of nations to be a known climate change sceptic. But while Abbott’s scepticism may be one of his biggest liabilities internationally, a great irony is that it is only because of this scepticism that he is now running for PM.–The Sydney Morning Herald, 17 August 2010

Australia’s Conservative Insurrection

The Wall Street Journal, 22 August 2010

Australians woke up yesterday to an event they haven’t seen in 70 years: a hung parliament. Yet far from being a confused outcome, Saturday’s election, like Britain’s in May, was a repudiation of the Left’s over-stimulated response to the global financial crisis and economic recession.

There’s no other way to explain the collapse in the ruling Labor Party’s popularity. As we went to press last night, the opposition Liberals (Australia’s principal conservative party) had won a majority of the “primary” votes, Labor looked set to fall a few seats short of a majority, and both parties were angling to form government with the help of a clutch of independents. Yet just a few months ago, Labor led the conservative Liberal Party by 12 percentage points in the polls and boasted one of the most popular prime ministers in modern history, Kevin Rudd.

Labor’s fortunes changed as Mr. Rudd—elected in 2007 as a centrist—veered sharply left, and as the Liberals found in Tony Abbott a leader who was willing to challenge him. Mr. Rudd staked his personal prestige on cap-and-trade legislation that the Liberals repeatedly stopped in the Senate while exposing it to the public as a huge tax hike disguised as an act of environmental virtue.

The public liked it even less when Mr. Rudd sought to impose punitive taxes on Australia’s mining industry, a mainstay of its economy. Nor did Australians approve of Keynesian “stimulus” programs that turned an A$19.7 billion surplus in 2007-2008 into a A$32.1 billion deficit the following fiscal year, with little to show for it except mismanaged bureaucratic boondoggles.

The Left’s initial reaction was to underestimate Mr. Abbott’s appeal to the average voter. Left-leaning media ridiculed his devout Catholicism, calling him a “mad monk,” though average Australians responded well to his family-man image and family-values message. As his polls continued to rise, the Labor caucus panicked, deposed Mr. Rudd and installed his deputy, Julia Gillard, as prime minister.

Ms. Gillard, an experienced politician, understood Mr. Rudd’s mistake and tried to move Labor back to the center-left. She compromised with big mining companies on a proposed windfall tax, pledged to balance the budget, backed away from climate-change legislation and talked about work-for-welfare schemes.

Her honeymoon bump in the polls, however, was short-lived. The party suffered from the usual internal bickering that follows a leader’s overthrow. More importantly, voters just didn’t believe that a woman who grew up in the union movement could suddenly discover the values of fiscal moderation. The centerpiece of her campaign, an A$43 billion national broadband network, revealed her big-government instincts.

Mr. Abbott helped his cause by running a disciplined campaign, setting out a clear agenda and presenting himself as a typical bloke (at least for a Rhodes Scholar), and Australians will find out soon enough whether he’ll be able to form a governing coalition. For the rest of the world, Australia’s election is another signal that voters have hardly given up on free-market economic solutions, especially after the taste of large deficits, punitive taxes and an ever-more intrusive government.

The Wall Street Journal, 22 August 2010