By Rob Taylor
CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australia's new conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott unveiled his first cabinet on Monday, appointing experienced lawmakers and promising a return to stable government after three years of often tumultuous minority center-left rule.
Abbott, who won power in September7 elections pledging stronger economic management, made only minor changes to his opposition line-up, with Joe Hockey appointed treasurer, as expected, while Mathias Cormann becomes finance minister, shifting from his assistant treasury portfolio.
Abbott's Deputy Liberal Party leader Julie Bishop will become foreign minister, and will be the only woman in his 20-member cabinet, although several women were promoted to junior ministries.
"It is, I believe, one of the most experienced incoming ministries in our history, and I think it's important to have experience as you move from opposition to government," Abbott said in his first news conference since the elections.
Abbott will become Australia's third prime minister in three months when he is sworn in by the country's governor-general on Wednesday. He won a commanding majority in parliament on a platform to scrap taxes on carbon pollution and mining profits, as well as a popular pledge to curb the arrival of asylum seekers into Australia by boat.
After the previous Labor government switched prime ministers twice in three years, Abbott has promised a methodical government with no surprises, already outlining spending cuts totaling A$40 billion, tax reforms and a return to a budget surplus by 2016-17.
Abbott's first cabinet also shifted trade responsibility from its minority partner in the incoming Coalition government, the Nationals Party, which has led a push for tighter rules on foreign investment in farms, handing the job to veteran Liberal Party colleague Andrew Robb.
One of the early tests the new government will face is whether to allow a proposed A$3 billion ($2.7 billion) takeover of bulk grain handler GrainCorp by U.S. Archer Daniels Midland. Nationals lawmakers are opposed to a foreign takeover of the country's biggest agribusiness.
"I also want people here and abroad to understand that Australia welcomes foreign investment," Abbott said. "It's got to be the right foreign investment, it's got to be foreign investment which is in our national interest."
Abbott, who has promised to be an Asia-focused prime minister, said one of his first priorities would be a visit to Indonesia to begin difficult discussions on border protection measures to stop asylum boat arrivals in Australia.
Indonesia's foreign minister last week criticized Abbott's plans to pay Indonesian fishermen and villagers for information on asylum departures and people-trafficking syndicates.
"By virtue of its size, proximity and potential, this is an extraordinarily important relationship to Australia," Abbott said. "I'm determined to get the relationship off to the best possible start."
Abbott is expected to quickly visit other Asian trade hubs, including China, Australia's biggest export buyer, with two-way trade worth $125 billion. His foreign policy will prioritize the region over close allies such as the United States and Britain.
While the Conservatives have traditionally been skeptical of multilateral trade deals, incoming foreign minister Bishop has expressed confidence about delivering on a two-way trade pact under discussion with China since 2005.
The Coalition has flagged a restoration of yearly ministerial visits from Australia to Taiwan, which China regards as a renegade province, prompting the former Labor government to curtail senior-level contacts.
(Reporting by Rob Taylor; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Jane Wardell)
- Politics & Government