Conservatives rise up Down Under

by Michael Reneau
Posted 9/14/13, 09:00 am

As Australian conservatives celebrate last Saturday’s parliamentary takeover by Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his party, some conservatives in the United States are looking to Abbott as an example of what can happen when a free-market, social conservative takes on an unpopular social liberal.

The latest vote counts project Abbott’s center-right Liberal Party winning 93 of 150 seats in the Australian House of Representatives.

Abbott, known by some as the “Mad Monk” because of his past training to become a priest, has pledged to cut spending in Australia, eliminate unpopular carbon taxes, and uphold traditional marriage. He has received praise from conservative American outfits such as the Acton Institute and the Heritage Foundation.

Abbott’s win signifies the Australian electorate’s dissatisfaction with outgoing Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and his party’s erratic years of control. Rudd was elected prime minister six years ago, before his own party sacked him then reinstated him in June. Two of his own cabinet ministers contradicted Rudd’s campaign claims about Abbott and the Liberal Party.

Rudd campaigned hard on legalizing same-sex marriage, but Australian Christian Lobby’s Lyle Shelton said voters didn’t want to revisit the initiative, which had already failed in parliament. In a national poll before the election, the Australian Christian Lobby found voters cared more about the economy and other issues, ranking same-sex marriage ninth in importance. 

Much like President Barack Obama’s evolving view of marriage, Rudd started his tenure as prime minister saying he favored keeping the traditional view of marriage. He then claimed he supported same-sex marriage but wouldn’t campaign on it, before finally promising to legalize same-sex marriage within 100 days if re-elected.

On the other hand, voters saw in Abbott “stability and consistency. He was calm and measured,” Shelton said.

Despite Abbot’s bonafides as a social conservative who said he favors policies that strengthen families and private charities, he thinks abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.” Shelton says most Australians agree, but momentum is swinging to the pro-life side in Australia.

Abbot and the Liberal Party promised the most change on economic issues: They plan to repeal an unpopular carbon tax and a 30 percent tax on coal and iron ore miners’ profits. And the coalition said it will reduce foreign aid spending to reduce budget deficits.

Abbot also said he wants to stop rickety fishing boats crammed with foreign refugees from entering Australia. Such immigration attempts have resulted in about 1,000 drownings in the last three years. “We all want to stop the boats, but we don’t want to stop the refugees,” Shelton said.

In another win last week for conservatives overseas, voters in Norway elected a conservative prime minister, Erna Solberg, who will control the government with a coalition of conservative parties.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Michael Reneau

Michael Reneau is the assistant managing editor of a newspaper in East Tennessee, where he lives with his wife and two sons. He is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelReneau.

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