CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Tony Abbott was sworn in as Australia's new prime minister on Wednesday and promised immediate action to slow the stream of asylum seekers arriving by boats from Indonesia and to repeal an unpopular carbon tax levied by the previous administration.
Abbott was the first of 42 government executives to be sworn in by Governor General Quentin Bryce at a ceremony at Government House in the capital Canberra. He has been criticized for including only one woman in his 19-member Cabinet, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop — although she will be Australia's first woman named to that post.
His conservative party defeated former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's center-left Labor Party in Sept. 7 elections. "We are determined to honor our commitments to scrap the carbon tax, to stop the boats, to get the budget under control and to build the roads of the 21st century," Abbott told the ceremony, referring to an election pledge to increase spending on road construction.
"We aim to be a calm, measured, steady and purposeful government that says what it means and does what it says," he added. Abbott's first Cabinet meeting was scheduled for Wednesday after the 90-minute swearing in ceremony.
Abbott also announced that Australia's contentious new policy on asylum seekers that includes turning back their boats to Indonesia would begin immediately after the swearing in ceremony. Australia has seen an increase in the number of such asylum seekers from Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Vietnam and other countries, many of whom pay smugglers up to $10,000 to get them to Australia from Indonesian ports
The incoming government announced on Tuesday that deputy army chief, Maj. Gen. Angus Campbell, had been appointed to lead Australia's new border protection policy, Operation Sovereign Borders. Campbell will be promoted to lieutenant general in this new role.
The new policy, which has been criticized by Indonesian officials, also includes buying fishing boats from Indonesian villages to prevent them falling into the hands of people smugglers. Australian officials would also pay villages for information about people smugglers under another controversial aspect to the policy.
Acting opposition leader Chris Bowen on Wednesday said the plan would cause problems with the countries' close relationship. "Mr. Abbott has told us he wants a Jakarta-based foreign policy at the same time as saying to Jakarta we don't care what you think, this is what we're doing," Bowen told Australian Broadcasting Corp. "This is a recipe, frankly, for ongoing problems in relation to boats arriving in Australia — it's (a) recipe for ongoing dispute with Indonesia about this issue."
Also, refugees who arrive by boat will be given temporary protection visas from Wednesday instead of being permanently resettled in Australia. Abbott plans to make his first international trip as prime minister to Indonesia on Sept. 30 to discuss the plan and other issues.
On energy policy, Abbott plans to order officials to draft legislation that would repeal the carbon tax imposed on the country's biggest greenhouse gas emitters. The tax has been attacked over its impact on household power bills since it was first levied from July 2012.
Abbott would remove the tax from July 2014 if the Parliament passes his legislative agenda. From Wednesday, the Clean Energy Finance Corp., a 10 billion Australian dollar ($9.4 billion) government fund to finance low-pollution technologies, will be barred from making any further loans.
Australia is one of the world's worst emitters of greenhouse gases on a per capita basis due largely to its heavy reliance on abundant reserves of cheap coal for electricity generation.