Tony Abbott has set the Opposition on a collision course with a double dissolution election, using his first press conference to vow to send the Government’s emissions trading scheme (ETS) to a parliamentary inquiry.
And if that is voted down, he said the Opposition would stop the ETS in the Senate.
Mr Abbott was elected new leader of the Liberal Party at a party room meeting this morning, defeating Malcolm Turnbull 42-41.
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Joe Hockey, who threw his hat into the ring but offered a free vote for the party on the Government’s emissions trading scheme, was eliminated in a first round ballot after collecting 23 votes compared to Mr Turnbull’s 26 and Mr Abbott’s 35.
Mr Abbott conducted a secret ballot after defeating Mr Turnbull on whether to vote on the ETS before the Copenhagen summit and 29 voted in favour of this tactic.
This means that 55 of the 84 Liberals in the meeting, a clear majority, have decided to put off a vote on climate change legislation until next year.
Borrowing language from the National Party which is opposed to the scheme, Mr Abbott described the ETS as "just a new tax".
“This is a $120 billion tax on the Australian people and that is just for starters,” he said. “We can’t just wave that through the Parliament.
“Oppositions are not there to get legislation through, they are there to hold governments to account.”
If the ETS is rejected it would give the Government the opportunity to hold a double dissolution election.
But Mr Abbott said that did not worry him.
“I’m not frightened of elections and I’m not frightened on an election on this issue.”
Mr Abbott said the Rudd Government was worse than the Whitlam Government when it came to spending, arguing there had been immense waste in schools and the national broadband network.
Mr Abbott said he was humbled and daunted by the job ahead, but said added he was both proud exhilarated by taking over as leader.
He said there were “obviously some wounds that needed to be healed”.
In an effort to break from Mr Turnbull’s leadership, he said he planned to be a collegial and consultative leader.
In an attempt to rally supporters, Mr Abbott said there would tough times ahead.
“I cannot promise victory but I can promise a contest,” he said.
Mr Abbott dismissed a question as to wether he had only recently told a local newspaper that climate change was "crap".
"It was a bit of hyperbole, it's not my position," he told reporters.
He admitted even he was surprised to find himself as Opposition Leader.
"It's the last thing I would have expected a week ago," he said.
Mr Abbott said he hoped he could put many of his past comments behind him, saying that when you became Opposition leader you made a fresh start.
"I accept that at times I have stuffed up, obviously," he said.
Mr Abbott denied he would like to bring back the Howard Government's controversial WorkChoices IR laws, but conceded he would campaign for a more "flexible economy".
Mr Abbott paid tribute to Mr Turnbull.
"We have sometimes been sparring partners but we have mostly been friends," he said. "Malcolm has shone in adversity.
"I want him to have a long and successful future in public life."
After this morning's vote Mr Turnbull said he would not be resigning, but would not commit to contesting the next election.
He said he would not be seeking a front bench position under Mr Abbott.
Mr Turnbull congratulated Mr Abbott, but said he was disappointed with the result.
“He has a big challenge ahead of him and plenty of Australians wish him all the best.”
WA’s Julie Bishop, the deputy of the Liberal Party, retained her position.
Mr Abbott invited Mr Hockey to take on the role of shadow treasurer.
But at a press conference after this morning's vote, Mr Hockey said he wanted to "have a further discussion" with Mr Abbott.
"I'm not a quitter. I'm putting the interests of my party and my country first," he said.
Mr Hockey said Mr Abbott had his full support, but would not rule out crossing the floor.
I am a person who naturally supports their leader," he said. "It's not my time. My colleagues have made their decision and I support that."
Mr Abbott's victory is eerily similar to the one vote victory by Mark Latham over Kim Beazley in the Labor Party 2003.
The victory also means Mr Turnbull, who lead the Australian Republican Movement, has been replaced by Mr Abbott who was heavily involved in the Australians for Constitutional Monarchy.
The ballot also means there will have to be a major re-shuffle of the Opposition front bench.
Mr Abbott had been the shadow families minister.
Sydney-resident Mr Abbott is the party’s fourth leader since 2007 when John Howard led the Government to electoral defeat.
One Liberal MP missed the vote - Victoria Fran Bailey who was returned to her seat of McEwen by less than 20 votes at the last election.
The vote also suggests the Government’s ETS scheme will be blocked in the Senate and referred to a parliamentary inquiry, which paves the way for Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to consider a double dissolution election.
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