Abbott to be sworn-in as Australia's new PM

Tony Abbott will be officially sworn in as Australia's new prime minister on Wednesday, with his controversial plan to stop asylum-seeker boats coming into play. -- PHOTO: AFP
Tony Abbott will be officially sworn in as Australia's new prime minister on Wednesday, with his controversial plan to stop asylum-seeker boats coming into play. -- PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY (AFP) - Tony Abbott will be officially sworn in as Australia's new prime minister on Wednesday, with his controversial plan to stop asylum-seeker boats coming into play.

The 55-year-old conservative has pledged to quickly scrap taxes on corporate pollution and mining profits imposed under the previous Labor administration, introduce a costly paid parental leave scheme, and build roads for the 21st century.

He has also vowed to halt the boats, with his policy of towing them back to Indonesia due to come into effect Wednesday, which could prove to be an early test of his mettle.

"On day one, which will be Wednesday, I expect Operation Sovereign Borders to commence," Mr Abbott told reporters this week, adding: "Interdiction operations on the seas to our north will change and become more forthright, cooperation with the authorities in Indonesia will become more vigorous."

Australia has struggled to manage the stream of asylum-seekers arriving on rickety, overloaded fishing boats which are mostly boarded in Indonesia, with the issue taking centre stage during the election. Hundreds have died on the risky journey in recent years.

Mr Abbott has vowed to move "purposely, calmly, methodically to deliver on our election commitments", saying the government's key challenge was to retain the trust of the public.

Counting of postal votes is still underway from the Sept 7 election, but the conservatives are on track to win 90 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives to Labor's 55.

It gives Mr Abbott a clear majority, although the makeup of the upper house of parliament is not yet apparent, with the likelihood that six minor party candidates could secure seats to hold the balance of power - complicating the new government's legislative push.

Mr Abbott and his cabinet will be sworn in by Governor-General Quentin Bryce in Canberra, 11 days after his overwhelming victory over Mr Kevin Rudd which ended six years of Labor rule, and two days after unveiling his cabinet.

While Mr Abbott has kept a low profile since the polls, he has already come under flak for naming just one woman in his 19-person cabinet - Julie Bishop as foreign minister.

The previous Labor government had six women in cabinet.

"He needs to buy a mirror to find out where the problem lies," Mr Bill Shorten, who is running to be the next Labor leader, said of Mr Abbott, who last year was accused of misogyny by Julia Gillard, Australia's first female premier.

Mr Abbott has also attracted criticism, including from his own party, for streamlining his ministry, with key portfolios such as water, climate change, science and aged care being wrapped into other portfolios.

"I mean we've got a Minister for Sport for God's sake, but we don't have a Minister for Science," said Liberal MP Dennis Jensen, comments seized on by Labor as a "sign of disunity" in the government.

Other key ministers to be sworn in Wednesday include Joe Hockey as treasurer, George Brandis as attorney-general, and Nationals leader Warren Truss as deputy prime minister and minister for infrastructure and regional development.