Australian PM-elect Tony Abbott clamps down on illegal immigrants

Clampdown on refugees and axing of pollution tax mark first acts of new coalition government

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 September, 2013, 4:56pm
UPDATED : Monday, 09 September, 2013, 7:20am

As Australia's new government prepared to take control of the nation, Prime Minister-elect Tony Abbott vowed to implement a controversial plan to stop asylum seekers from reaching the nation's shores and immediately scrap an unpopular tax on carbon polluters.

Abbott, who has softened his macho image and ran a disciplined campaign in contrast to the disarray within the Labor-led government, took victory in his stride and began his day yesterday with his usual Sunday morning bike ride.

In an open letter, Abbott said he would immediately implement his border protection plan, under which the Australian navy would turn back Indonesian fishing boats carrying asylum seekers into Australian waters. The coalition has also proposed that the government buy old fishing boats from Indonesian fishermen to prevent people smugglers acquiring them.

In his letter, Abbott took a dig at the outgoing Labor government's notorious infighting. "We will be a careful, collegial, consultative, straight-forward government that says what it means and does what it says and that does not waste your money," he wrote.

Abbott also held briefings yesterday with defence and intelligence officials to get an update on the Syrian civil war. Abbott, whose party was criticised for undervaluing foreign relations, drew flak last week for describing the Syrian crisis in an interview as "baddies versus baddies".

Just hours after declaring Australia was "under new management", the athletic premier-elect had donned his sky blue and purple Lycra shorts and helmet to join his mates cycling in Sydney.

"It was a very big night, but this is just the start of another normal day," the 55-year-old said. "People expect that the day after an election, an incoming government will be getting down to business and that's what I'll be doing today."

Despite the conservatives' convincing win, Labor escaped the total rout pollsters had predicted.

The election commission count is prolonged with complicated preference voting, but with more than 90 per cent tallied, Abbott's coalition led in 86 seats with Labor on 57 in the 150-seat House of Representatives. Four seats were too close to call, the Greens were ahead in one, and an independent and a minor party led the other two.

Abbott, who was backed by media owner Rupert Murdoch and his Australian newspapers, takes office as the economy adjusts to the end of a mining investment boom, with slowing government revenues and rising unemployment.

But Abbott's finance spokesman Andrew Robb, who may become trade minister, said Australia's economy and mining sector would receive a boost from the election result.

"As of today, the mining boom will be rebooted," Robb told Australian television. "We will restore an appetite for risk and investment."

Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse