Tony Abbott

Shutterstock / Phillip Minnis
Meet Australia’s incoming prime minister, Tony Abbott, who once called climate science “absolute crap.”

In the national election held on Saturday, Australian voters faced a big choice on climate policy — a choice between fairly good and downright evil, as we explained earlier this summer.

The Aussies opted for evil.

Tony Abbott, the climate-denying politician who had pledged to kill a carbon tax and other climate initiatives introduced by the Labor Party government, will soon be the country’s prime minister. The Abbott-led conservative coalition of the Liberal and National parties (note the capital “L” in “Liberal” — that’s because it’s the name of a party, not a description of its platform) easily won an election that had been dominated by debate over climate policies.

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The carbon tax has been credited with contributing to a recent drop in carbon dioxide emissions in Australia, which is one of the world’s worst per-capita CO2 polluters. But the tax is fiercely resented by the country’s powerful resources-based corporations.

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Abbott’s first order of business? Repaying the mining and fossil-fuel industries that helped elect him by immediately moving to scrap that tax — just like he promised.

From the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

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Prime Minister-elect Tony Abbott yesterday instructed his department to begin drawing up the legislation to dump the carbon pricing scheme, and says Federal Parliament will resume in late October or early November to deal with it. …

Mr Abbott’s spokesman — and likely minister — for the environment, Greg Hunt, says scrapping the carbon tax will be new government’s “first order of business”.

“We want to set out now to do what we said we would do, and the only people who stand between Australia and lower electricity prices are the Labor Party,” Mr Hunt said.

This won’t be as simple as Abbott would like. Although he will soon control the the House of Representatives, which is Parliament’s primary law-writing body, a newly elected gang of senators won’t take their seats for another year. The existing Senate is controlled by the Labor Party and the Green Party, which have vowed to block legislation to repeal the carbon tax.

Even when the new Senate is sworn in, Abbott will face challenges. Current projections show that his coalition will have fewer than half of the Senate seats, with the balance of power likely to be held by what The Age newspaper described as a “barnyard of minor parties, … some of them virtually unknown entities with no track record and no known policies.”

That means Abbott would need to negotiate with senators from such weird-arse parties as the Sports Party and The Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party in attempting to pass new climate legislation. Again from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

Greens leader Christine Milne, whose party will hold the balance of power for the next 12 months, says the incoming minor party senators may still prove to be a challenge to work with.

“When the new Senate takes place, he will have to get six out of eight — if the current numbers are the ones that are returned — six out of eight of those people to vote with him at any one time and who knows where they stand on anything,” she said.

“For most of them, there is no policy platform, there is no philosophical view.”

And then there are the financial challenges. Abbott’s advisers estimate that dumping the carbon tax will leave a $AUD6 billion ($5.5 billion) hole in the federal budget during the next three to four years. The tax was not only used to pay for climate initiatives; it was part of Labor’s sweeping reform of the country’s tax system designed to reduce personal income taxes [PDF], especially for low-income earners.

The election result is a tad baffling given that Labor oversaw six straight years of rising economic prosperity amid global financial doom and gloom. So who can we blame, then, for the depressing collapse of Australian’s burgeoning climate leadership in the Asia-Pacific region?

Some pundits blame outgoing Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for losing the election — he destabilized the Labor Party by hounding former Prime Minister Julia Gillard out of the top job in the year leading up to the election, and then pushed the party further to the right. Others blame widespread resentment of Labor’s climate policies (the Associated Press described the carbon tax as “hated” in its election coverage), which is strange given that Australians voted the party in six years ago, and reelected it three years ago, on the basis of those very policies. Others blame News Limited founder Rupert Murdoch, whose Australian stable of newspapers whipped up an anti-Labor furor with biased reporting in the lead-up to the election. Murdoch, for what it’s worth, took to Twitter in a triumphant tirade to espouse his own angry theories:

Then again, we could probably just blame the Australian voters.