- - Tuesday, August 26, 2014


There are many conservatives across the world who can provide inspiration to the Republican Party. United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and my former boss, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, are among them.

Here’s another conservative that Americans should start paying very close attention to: Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

The 56-year-old was first elected to office in 1994, winning a by-election in New South Wales’ Division of Warringah for the center-right Australian Liberal Party. A solid fiscal and social conservative, he quickly acquired a reputation as being a “bomb thrower,” or a politician known for fiery rhetoric and uncompromising positions.

Mr. Abbott served as minister for employment, workplace relations and small business, and minister for health and aging for John Howard’s government. Mr. Howard, who served as prime minister from 1996 to 2007, was a champion of limited government, lower taxes, free markets and private enterprise — and a firm opponent of trade unions. He was also a powerful political ally of former President George W. Bush during the war on terrorism. Mr. Bush famously called Mr. Howard a “man of steel” who has “showed the world he’s a man of heart.”

It’s fair to say Mr. Abbott, like many politicians, was very raw at the beginning when he became Liberal Party leader in 2009. Since becoming Australia’s 28th prime minister last September, he has gradually matured into a strong international figure. In fact, I would argue that he has started to closely resemble Mr. Howard’s impressive and inspirational period of political leadership.

The current Australian government is one of the most fiscally conservative in the world today. Mr. Abbott and his coalition partners are in the process of reducing the size of government, which grew exponentially under left-wing Labor governments run by Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.

Mr. Abbott favors tax cuts as a way to get the economy back on track. He has eliminated wasteful amounts of public spending. He is opposed to increased union control. He has spent the taxpayers’ money on building roads, not public transit. He has signed important new trade agreements with Japan and South Korea. He has started to modernize Australia’s immigration system. As well, he has opposed the implementation of a carbon tax on emissions.

Mr. Abbott is also, like Mr. Howard, a strong supporter of foreign policy and national defense. He spoke out this month against the Islamic State’s violent behavior, calling it “a terrorist army” that is “seeking not just a terrorist enclave, but effectively a terrorist state, a terrorist nation.” This is the sort of effective political messaging we had come to expect from U.S. presidents — until Barack Obama took office, that is.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. Mr. Abbott has also tackled controversial policy and social issues that some conservatives would have immediately shied away from.

To his credit, the Australian prime minister has gone much further on reforming aboriginal issues, a highly complicated issue in his country, than any of his political predecessors.

Having taught in aboriginal communities, he has a solid understanding (as an outsider) of the issues facing them. He served as shadow critic of families, community services and indigenous affairs under Mr. Howard — and was actually critical of his leader’s decision not to offer a national apology to the “stolen generations,” which included many aboriginal children. He has streamlined indigenous affairs into one major portfolio in his Cabinet, and cut wasteful, ineffective social programs.

Mr. Abbott has, therefore, transformed aboriginal affairs into a national priority for his government.

Meanwhile, he has already discussed social issues in a meaningful way. Mr. Abbott, who is Roman Catholic, studied in a seminary and wrote for domestic religious publications such as The Catholic Weekly. He is pro-life, and has stated that he would prefer abortion was “safe, legal and rare.” He opposes stem-cell research and euthanasia. He is personally against same-sex marriage, although he would prefer not to reopen this debate in Parliament.

When you put everything together, Mr. Abbott’s style is remarkably similar to two prominent U.S. Republicans, Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. He balances fiscal and social conservatism, isn’t afraid to speak his mind on certain issues, and is willing to think and act outside a narrow political box.

In my opinion, Mr. Abbott’s successful political model is something the GOP should examine and immediately emulate for this fall’s midterm elections and the 2016 presidential election.

Michael Taube is a contributor to The Washington Times.

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