Australian Prime Minister-elect Tony Abbott announced his Cabinet team to see through the coalition government’s first-term pledges, attracting criticism for including just one female member.
Mathias Cormann, 42, was named finance minister and Andrew Robb, 62, was given the trade and investment portfolio in a ministerial lineup that largely preserves the roles senior Liberal-National lawmakers held in opposition. Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop will be the only woman in the team.
“This is the team to provide strong and stable government,” Abbott told reporters in Canberra, saying that 15 members of the Cabinet have previous ministerial experience.
Having won the Sept. 7 election, Abbott, 55, needs to navigate legislation through a Senate where the balance of power is held by the Greens until mid-2014, when it switches to a patchwork of minor center-right parties. One of his main tasks will be edging the budget back toward a surplus at a time when economic growth is forecast to slow.
Other members of the Cabinet, to be sworn in Sept. 18, include: Joe Hockey as treasurer; Warren Truss as deputy prime minister and minister for infrastructure and regional development; Eric Abetz as employment minister; George Brandis as attorney-general; and Barnaby Joyce as minister for agriculture. Abbott nominated Bronwyn Bishop, 70, to be speaker of parliament’s lower house.
Abbott said he was disappointed there was only one female Cabinet member and said Sophie Mirabella would have been included were she not in a close race to keep her parliamentary seat.
Chris Bowen, the interim leader of the Labor party, said the government of Afghanistan had more women in its Cabinet, and criticized Abbott for not representing key areas such as tourism with dedicated portfolios. Outgoing Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had six women in his Cabinet.
The coalition has won 90 seats in the 150-member lower house to Labor’s 55 with vote counting yet to be completed. With Rudd resigning as Labor leader, Bill Shorten, a former unionist and party powerbroker, and Rudd’s former deputy, Anthony Albanese, face a ballot of party lawmakers and rank and file members to succeed him -- a process that may take more than a month.
Along with abolishing Labor’s carbon and mining levies, Abbott wants to lower the business-tax rate by 1.5 percentage points while funding a A$5.5 billion ($5.1 billion) per year maternity-leave program that will give highly-paid new mothers up to A$75,000 over six months.
Abbott plans to reduce the civil service by at least 12,000 positions and deliver a budget surplus of 1 percent of gross domestic product within a decade. The incoming administration has also pledged to lower subsidies for carmakers, slash red tape and cancel handouts to parents of school children.
The Treasury last month forecast deeper budget deficits in the next three years and cut its growth estimate for 2013-14 to 2.5 percent from 2.75 percent seen in May. Unemployment will rise to an 11-year high of 6.25 percent by mid-2014, it said.
Abbott, a former Rhodes Scholar and trainee priest, takes office at a time of transition for Australia’s economy as a mining-investment boom wanes. The Reserve Bank of Australia has reduced interest rates by 2.25 percentage points since late 2011 in a bid to revive employment-intensive industries including construction.
There has been “a very serious deterioration in our budgetary situation,’’ Abbott told reporters. “We will bring the budget back into surplus as quickly as we responsibly can, consistent with the election commitments that we’ve given.”
Cormann was born in Belgium and migrated to Perth in 1996. He worked for the Liberals’ Western Australia state branch, was general manager for a health insurance company and became a senator in June 2007. He served as shadow assistant treasurer and shadow minister for financial services and superannuation.
Robb was shadow minister for finance, deregulation and debt reduction while the coalition was in opposition. He will be responsible for making progress in Australia’s free-trade agreement negotiations, Abbott said.
The Cabinet lineup reflects Abbott’s “message to the electorate that he wants to provide a very steady, no-surprises type of government,” said Stephen Stockwell, a political analyst at Griffith University in Brisbane.
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