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Reflecting on Tony Abbott’s Fall

This week saw Australia’s controversial Prime Minister Tony Abbott ignobly ousted from office in a parliamentary coup by his old rival Malcolm Turnbull. It is a bold move for the Liberal Party and a bold move for Australia.There is no doubting that Abbott was a big personality in Australian politics. His bullish ministerial style will be absent now Turnbull is in charge. This will come as a relief to many.

Turnbull restoration to the top job heralds a return to mild-mannered politics based on reason and consideration, not rhetoric and bold statements. One of the first issues of scrutiny will be on whether Turnbull turns back the draconian energy measures taken by Abbott on Australia’s green revival. In a nation which should be a magnet for solar energy with levels of annual sunshine only dreamt of in Scotland, Australia ranks poorly in international comparisons. Under Abbott, Australia backtracked from its earlier environmental commitments and he oversaw a 20% reduction in the Renewable Energy Target (RET) from 41,000 GWh to 33,000 GWh. It is too early to say whether Turnbull will reverse this decision. However, Turnbull has made it clear his belief in man-made climate change. He went so far as to describe Abbott views on climate change as “bullshit” back in 2009 which is a blunt put down of Abbott’s fruitcake climate change denial. The business acumen of Turnbull is undisputed and many hope that his enthusiasm for electric vehicles and energy storage would expand to renewable energy. Whatever his stance, it is certainly a great step away from a Prime Minister who described human caused climate change as “crap”.

The demise of Abbott is not only a gasp of relief for the planet as a whole as green issues are brought back on the agenda but for working Australians as well. On Wednesday Turnbull flagged his fervent support for more women in senior cabinet positions. “There is no greater enthusiast than me for seeing more women in positions of power and influence in Parliament, in ministries right across the country,” Turnbull told reporters in his first news conference as prime minister. It is certainly an important step in a nation known for its macho culture and in the background of falling female representation in Australian parliaments since 2009. In 2001, Australia ranked within the top 25 nations with the highest female representation in national parliaments. This a far cry from the reality now where Australia languishes in 48th position as of April 2014. This alone is a damning statistic showing the regression of gender equality. Let alone marriage equality for gay couples which Abbott has fiercely opposed citing his strong religious objections.A view out of kilter with an overwhelmingly secular electorate.

Turnbull’s enthusiastic support for more women in senior cabinet positions will go someway in changing attitudes and hopefully reverse this sorry decline from the top down. Those of us fighting for greater gender equality in politics will not be sorry to see the demise of a man who once rated the “sex appeal” of a colleague. Such a comment jarred even more from a politician who had earlier self-proclaimed himself the grandiose and slightly unnerving title of Minister for Women.

It remains to be seen whether Turnbull is committed to his republican sentiments expressed in earlier times. It is almost certain that he will not follow Abbott’s revival of the knight rank in the Australian honours system. Back in 2014, Abbott created the first Australian knight in almost 30 years. He was quickly a target of sustained criticism for awarding Prince Phillip, a Greek-born British royal the highest honour of Australia. The Turnbull administration will be a move away from Abbott style vanity projects and a concentration on the real issues affecting the Australian people.

Those seeking an increasingly meritocratic Liberal Party and Australia will be relieved to see the back of Mr Abbott and his presidential leadership style. The premiership of Turnbull is likely to follow his mild-contemplative approach to life and reassure Australians that an old hand is back at the helm of Australian politics.

 

By Robert Sutton-Mattocks

History student

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