Asia

Australia elections: Rudd and Abbott in final push

  • 6 September 2013
  • From the section Asia
File photo: Kevin Rudd (right) and Tony Abbott at a People's Forum in Brisbane, 21 August 2013
Image caption Tony Abbott (L) leads Kevin Rudd (R) in opinion polls

Australian political rivals Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott have hit the campaign trail in a final push for votes ahead of Saturday's election.

Opinion polls place the opposition coalition, led by Mr Abbott, ahead of the ruling Labor party.

But Prime Minister Kevin Rudd appealed to undecided voters, saying they could close the gap.

The economy, asylum policy and carbon tax are amongst the key issues concerning voters.

Latest polls suggest the opposition Liberal-National coalition will take 53% of the vote to Labor's 47%. All the major papers, except newspaper The Age, are backing the coalition.

On Friday Mr Rudd was campaigning in the New South Wales Central Coast, while Mr Abbott spoke at a guitar factory in Melbourne.

Mr Rudd emphasised the Labor government's economic record and said his priority was "jobs, more jobs and jobs, health, hospitals and broadband, and to keep support for cost of living pressures".

He also criticised the coalition's U-turn on internet policy as a "debacle".

The opposition on Thursday announced a policy to filter adult content from the internet, with customers having to opt-out for access. The policy was retracted a few hours later.

Mr Abbott said a failure of "quality control" was to blame for the fact that the policy was "poorly worded".

"We don't support filtering the internet," he said.

'A new way'

Mr Abbott said the coalition would "end the waste, stop the boats, and build roads of the 21st Century".

He also warned voters against "another hung parliament, and a weak and divided Labor-Green government".

"[The] only way to have a new way is to choose a new government," he said.

The opposition released more of its planned cuts and policy costings on Thursday, including a A$4.5bn ($4bn, £2.6bn) cut in foreign aid over three years that would be diverted to domestic infrastructure projects.

The proposed cut has been criticised by NGOs and rights groups.

Norman Gillespie, chief executive of Unicef Australia, told Radio Australia: "This has come as quite a shock, the size of it, the scale of it and simply the giving up of the principle of a civilised nation helping those who are in extreme poverty and in need," he said.

Asylum deals

The election comes after Kevin Rudd toppled his predecessor Julia Gillard in a leadership ballot in June, amid dismal polling figures. Ms Gillard had herself ousted Mr Rudd as prime minister in 2010.

The Labor party experienced a brief poll bounce after Mr Rudd's reinstatement, and several polls subsequently showed that Australian voters preferred Mr Rudd to Mr Abbott as prime minister.

However, the latest opinion polls give the opposition coalition a clear lead.

The economy has been a major issue, as Australia prepares to adjust to the end of the mining and resources boom amid slowing demand from China.

The election rivals have also both sought to tighten asylum policy amid a spike in the number of people arriving by boat.

Under a Labor plan, asylum seekers arriving by boat will be sent to Papua New Guinea and resettled there if found to be refugees.

Mr Abbott, meanwhile, say he will appoint a military commander to lead operations tackling people smugglers, and that asylum seekers granted refugee status would be limited to temporary renewable visas.

Both policies have been criticised by refugee rights groups. The UN has described Mr Rudd's policy as "troubling", while Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young described the coalition's policy as "cruelty and punishment for the sake of Tony Abbott looking tough".

More than 14 million people are expected to vote in Saturday's election, Australian media say.

There was a reported 94% voter turnout in the last federal election.

Every Australian citizen aged 18 or older is required by law to vote, with penalties for failure to vote without a valid reason.