Freshly sworn-in Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull faced the opposition in parliament for the first time Tuesday and immediately disappointed the Greens by defending the climate change policy installed by his predecessor.
Turnbull, known to favour renewable energy over coal, said the emissions reduction target set by the government was sensible and substantial.
It is a sign he is going to have to walk a fine line as a moderate with progressive social values not to upset the conservatives in his governing Liberal/National Party coalition, which supported Tony Abbott as prime minister until he lost the party vote Monday night 54 to 44.
It was a surprisingly modest and quiet Question Time in parliament, lacking the fire and aggression that Abbott habitually threw across the chamber at the Labor opposition.
There was no use of Abbott’s consistent term “death cult” or warnings about terrorists working on ways to attack Australians.
Instead Turnbull seems to be introducing a new civility to parliament, stressing his government will be consultative.
“The future is one of great opportunities,” Turnbull told parliament, a grin across his face.
Turnbull paid tribute to his predecessor, Tony Abbott, saying the party “owes him an enormous debt of gratitude for his leadership and service.”
It was a compliment that was not returned by Abbott who in his last press conference made a bitter attack on the media and treachery within his own party.
Abbott told reporters there was a “febrile media culture that rewards treachery” and called on the media not to print unsourced claims from politicians.
“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 dishonour by acting as the assassin’s knife,” Abbott said.
Turnbull becomes the sixth prime minister Australia has had in the past five years. When Abbott was axed by his own party colleagues on Monday night, he suffered the same fate as Labor’s prime ministers Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd.
Abbott did not say whether he would stay on in politics, but if Turnbull stumbles Abbott could be there to step in again.
“This is a tough game. But when you join the game, you accept the rules,” Abbott said with a stern face as he finished his press conference.
The next election is due in 12 months, but Turnbull could decide to go early if he gets a bounce and the opinion polls put the government ahead of Labor for the first time in 20 months.
The Australian reported Tuesday afternoon that a snap Morgan poll of 1204 voters taken that morning found Turnbull is preferred by 70 per cent of voters compared with 24 per cent for opposition leader Bill Shorten.
The first test comes Saturday in a by-election in Western Australia. Under Abbott the polls predicted a 10-per-cent swing against the Liberals. If that improves with Turnbull as leader, it would signal renewed support for the government.