December 1, 2009 / 2:08 AM / 8 years ago

NEWSMAKER-'Mad Monk' Australia opposition head to fight CO2 laws

By Rob Taylor

CANBERRA, Dec 1 (Reuters) - Australia’s new conservative opposition leader, Tony Abbott, is nicknamed the "Mad Monk" and once flirted with the priesthood, but his crusade against the government’s emissions trade plan has been anything but madcap.

A pugnacious and socially conservative Catholic who has fought everything from attempts to make Australia a republic to embryonic stem cell research and same-sex marriages, Abbott was elected opposition leader on Tuesday in a surprise win. [ID:nSYD427077]

His election over former investment banker and party moderate Malcolm Turnbull means the conservatives have reversed support for Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s emissions scheme and have likely ensured its defeat in an obstructive upper house later this week.

"This is a A$120 billion ($110 billion) tax on the Australian public. We can’t just waive that through the parliament. It would be grossly irresponsible of us," Abbott told journalists after his victory on Tuesday. Elections are due in late 2010.

However, Abbott has now changed his position on the carbon trade scheme three times in recent months. He says he is not a climate sceptic and believes humans have contributed to global warming.

The London-born Abbott, 53, has never been shy of a parliamentary battle and once represented Oxford University at boxing while studying there as an Australian Rhodes Scholar.

A keen surfer and fitness fanatic, he appeared this week in swimming trunks while training for beach lifesaving duty, further adding to his reputation as a publicity savvy operator.

Abbott had aspired to joining the Catholic church and studied at a seminary before changing career paths and publicly saying he was too interested in attractive women to become a priest.

But he has made his name in politics, being a leading party intellectual and marshalling opposition to emissions trading among conservative forces.

Abbott has often been criticised for his lack of diplomacy and blunt language, including beliefs that Australia’s disadvantaged Aborigines have a history under national government that is "not all bad", despite a 17 year life expectancy gap.

As a former health minister, he also showed up 30 minutes late for a nationally televised debate with his opposition counterpart, calling her complaints "bullshit".

Abbott has been in parliament for 15 years, after serving as a senior adviser to a former opposition Liberal Party leader. ($1=1.089 Australian Dollar) (Editing by Bill Tarrant ) ((rob.taylor@thomsonreuters.com; +612 62733700; Reuters Messaging: rob.taylor.reuters.com@reuters.net)) ((If you have a query or comment on this story, send an email to news.feedback.asia@thomsonreuters.com))

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