Australia's new opposition chief vows to oppose green legislation
Australia's opposition elected a new leader today who immediately vowed to vote against government legislation aimed at curbing greenhouse gases, which would hand Prime Minister Kevin Rudd a mechanism to call an early election.
The election of Tony Abbott as leader of the conservative Liberal party adds more turmoil to more than a week of chaos within the opposition, which split publicly and messily between those who support a carbon trading system and those who oppose one.
Legislation to establish the system is currently being debated in the Senate, where Mr Rudd's government needs the support of the Liberals or minority party legislators to pass the bill into law. A vote could come at any time.
If the opposition votes against the bill, it is almost certain to be defeated, as it was at an earlier vote in August.
Under Australia's constitution, if a bill passed by the lower house is rejected twice in the Senate then the prime minister can call for an election to break the deadlock.
If the bill is defeated, Mr Rudd could call an early election and opinion polls indicate he would win.
However, he is unlikely to call a poll before early 2010. He is overseas this week, and political campaigning during the Christmas-New Year holiday season is considered out of bounds.
In any case, an election is due by late 2010. Mr Rudd is Australia's most popular leader in years and opinion polls have consistently suggested his government will easily win the next election whether it is called early or not.
The government did not immediately respond to the developments among the conservatives.
Mr Abbott said the conservatives would move a motion to refer the emissions trading system, or ETS, legislation to a review committee - something a majority of Senators have already said they will oppose - and if that fails they will vote against the bill this week.
"I am really not frightened of an election on this issue," Mr Abbott told reporters. "Because as far as many millions of Australians are concerned what the Rudd government ETS looks like is a great big tax to create a great big slush fund to provide politicised handouts, run by giant bureaucracy, and they expect us to scrutinise and to criticise this not just to wave it through the parliament."