Opposition heading for landslide win in Australian election

The economy has been the central focus of the five-week campaign

Opposition leader Tony Abbott addresses the media as his daughter Francis Abbott looks on at the Rosella factory yesterday in Dandenong, Australia. Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

The Liberal-National coalition, which looks set to win a landslide victory in tomorrow's Australian election, has been sharply criticised by the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) over its plans to drastically cut foreign aid.

The coalition's shadow treasurer, Joe Hockey, announced the opposition's policy costings yesterday, just 40 hours before the polling booths open. "We are reducing the growth in foreign aid by 4.5 billion Australian dollars [€3.1 billion] over the forward estimates to fund essential infrastructure here in Australia, " said Mr Hockey.

Unicef Australia chief executive Norman Gillespie, who was raised in Lurgan, Co Armagh, reacted angrily to the announcement. "Mr Hockey may well wish to argue the economy will grow faster under a coalition, but his costings are at the expense of children's lives."

Continued growth
The economy has been the central focus of the five-week election campaign, with figures released on Wednesday showing Australia has had 22 years of continued economic growth. The first five and last six of these years have been under Labor governments, with the middle 11 years under Liberal-National coalitions.


"This is a good record for Australia," said Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd. "It means, therefore, if you're in the workforce, and if you're under 40 years of age, you've never experienced a recession."

Despite Labor’s handling of the economy meaning Australia was the only developed country not to go into recession during the global financial crisis, the coalition has campaigned on what it calls Labor’s “debt and deficit” and said it has been “the worst government in Australian history”.

Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott has called for people not to vote for minor parties to avoid a government such as that which Labor has led with support from Greens and independents over the past three years.

“If you want a strong and stable government, you vote for one of the major parties, as simple as that,” he said. “If you vote for an independent, a celebrity, or a minor party, effectively you are voting for another hung parliament and another circus.”

Murdoch accused
One of those minor parties, the Palmer United Party, has a strong chance of winning a senate seat, but made the news for other reasons yesterday. Its leader, businessman Clive Palmer, threatened to sue Rupert Murdoch and said Mr Murdoch's wife Wendi Deng was a "Chinese spy".

Mr Palmer accused Mr Murdoch of telling his reporters what to write. “This guy wants to control Australian politics. He wants to control what you think,’’ he said, adding that Ms Deng had “been spying on Rupert for years, giving money back to Chinese intelligence . . . that’s why Rupert Murdoch got rid of her.”

It was announced in June that Mr Murdoch and his wife are to divorce.

The civil war in Syria has also been an issue in the campaign, with Mr Rudd saying Mr Abbott's understanding of the situation was "simplistic".

Speaking on ABC television, Mr Abbott said: “We’ve got a civil war going on in that benighted country between two pretty unsavoury sides. It’s not goodies versus baddies – it’s baddies versus baddies.”

Mr Rudd said this showed Mr Abbott should not become prime minister. “The last time I used the term goodies or baddies I think was when I was playing cowboys and Indians in the backyard,” he said.

“We’re talking about serious questions of national security, serious questions of international relations.”

Pádraig Collins

Pádraig Collins

Pádraig Collins a contributor to The Irish Times based in Sydney