Abbott out after briefest Australian premiership in 43 years


Tony Abbott departs as the briefest-serving Australian prime minister in 43 years Tuesday, and faces an uncertain future in politics.

Despite Abbott’s strong backing from the hard right wing of his party and success in stopping refugee boats from reaching Australia, voters never warmed to his conservative leadership.

Abbott’s Liberal Party colleagues voted him out as leader Monday night 54 to 44, electing Malcolm Turnbull to head the party and become the new prime minister.

Abbott and Turnbull have been facing off for much of their careers. Abbott is a monarchist, while Turnbull led the failed 1999 campaign for Australia to become a republic.

As a young man Abbott was a Rhodes scholar, boxer, brawling right-wing student activist who once trained to become a Catholic priest, earning him the nickname the Mad Monk.

Abbott, 57, brought down two Labor prime ministers, and won the 2013 election. But he failed to display a vision for the future in the two years he was prime minister.

His personal decision to give Prince Philip a knighthood, his arch-conservative social values, hostility to renewable energy, strident support of coal, autocratic administration and a string of broken election caused a steady decline in public opinion polls.

When Abbott’s austerity measures failed to win public support and did not get through the Senate, where minor parties hold the balance of power. He even lost the confidence of big business and the economy stagnated.

Abbott beat off a challenge to his party leadership in February, but he asked party members to give him six months to turn around public support.

When that did not happen and Abbott’s government was heading for a beating in the next election due in 12 months, his party decided to replace him with the more popular and more moderate Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

In 2009, Abbott defeated Turnbull for the leadership of the Liberal Party by just one vote to become opposition leader, and then went on to win the election in 2013.

Now Turnbull has won the party leadership back by 10 votes and becomes the sixth Australian prime minister in five years.