NEW: Malcolm Turnbull sworn in as Australia's new Prime Minster
Former communications minister Turnbull won Liberal party room vote, 54 to 44
In his final speech, Abbott hits out at media for acting as "assassin's knife"
In his final speech as Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott said it was a tough day, “but when you join the game, you accept the rules.”
Those rules, under Australia’s parliamentary system, are that when your party decides it no longer wants you as leader, you must stand aside for a new leader, bypassing the public vote.
That new leader is former minister Malcolm Turnbull, a former lawyer, banker and businessman, who was sworn in on Tuesday as the country’s 29th Prime Minister.
It took Tony Abbott one night and a morning to deliver his final words as the nation’s leader.
“My pledge today is to make this change as easy as I can … There will be no wrecking, no undermining and no sniping,” Abbott said, to the media pack outside Parliament House in Canberra.
Taking aim at the media
Having said that, he proceeded to lay into what he called the “febrile media culture” that “rewards treachery.”
“If there’s one piece of advice I can give to the media, it’s this: refuse to print self-serving claims that the person making them won’t put his or her name to. Refuse to connive at dishonor by acting as the assassin’s knife.”
Abbott also hit out at polling, which he appeared to blame for the recent high turnover of Australian prime ministers.
“The nature of politics has changed in the past decade. We have more polls and more commentary than ever before. Mostly sour, bitter, character assassination. Poll-driven panic has produced a revolving door prime ministership which can’t be good for our country,” he said.
Australia has had five leaders – and in one case the same one twice – since 2007, when long-time Liberal leader John Howard lost the federal election to Labor’s Kevin Rudd. After Rudd came Julia Gillard, then Rudd, then Abbott. And now Turnbull.
After his final speech, Abbott ended his term with a tweet: “Thank you for the privilege of being Prime Minister. My love for this country is as strong as ever.”
Who is Turnbull?
Within a matter of hours on Monday, Malcolm Turnbull went from the country’s communications minister to new leader, after winning a party room vote 54 to 44.
At a late night press conference, he vowed that his new government would be “thoroughly consultative.”
“The Prime Minister of Australia is not a president. The Prime Minister is the first among equals,” he said, flanked by Julie Bishop, who was returned as the party’s deputy leader.
The remark could be seen as a criticism of Abbott’s leadership style. He was considered a leader prone to making “captain’s calls” – decisions made without any consultation.
For years, the former Labor government was rife with infighting, as Gillard first ousted Rudd in 2010, who then did the same to her in 2013.
When he won the Federal election in 2013, Abbott promised his would be a stable government.
However, in mounting his challenge, Turnbull called for a government with a new style of leadership.
“We need advocacy, not slogans. We need to respect the intelligence of the Australian people,” he said, while singling out for criticism Abbott’s record on the economy.
“The Prime Minister has not been capable of providing the economic leadership our nation needs; he has not been capable of providing the economic confidence that business needs,” Turnbull said.
The Australian economy has been feeling the effects of slowing demand from China for minerals. Australia’s gross domestic product expanded 2% in the second quarter, compared to the same period the previous year.
In his final speech, Abbott said he was proud of what his government had achieved: “300,000 more people are in jobs. Labor’s bad taxes are gone. We have signed Free Trade Agreements with our largest trading partners – with Japan, with Korea, and with China.”
As his predecessors and others congratulated Turnbull, Abbott made no mention of his successor.
And the departing PM gave no indication as to what he will do next.