Australia’s conservative opposition leader Tony Abbott, favourite to win the country’s 7 September election, has launched his campaign promising to build a stronger economy, putting “bulldozers on the ground and cranes in the skies”.
Polls show Mr Abbott is poised to end six years of Labour rule and sweep into office on a pro-business platform of restoring government finances and boosting investor confidence.
“We need a new way but to get a new way we have to choose a new government,” Mr Abbott told thousands of supporters yesterday in Brisbane in the northern state of Queensland, a key poll battleground.
“I hope to be an infrastructure prime minister who puts bulldozers on the ground and cranes into our skies,” he said.
Mr Abbott described the Labour government, which has run up record debt and budget deficits and which dumped Julia Gillard as prime minister in favour of Kevin Rudd just weeks before the election, as the “worst government in our history”. He promised an Abbott government would revive business confidence, control government spending and bring about a faster return to surplus budgets.
Mr Abbott, 55, a socially conservative Catholic who once trained to become a priest, has a tough image as a super-fit and combative politician and has relentlessly attacked Labour for running up record debt. In an attempt to soften his tough-guy image two, of his daughters introduced Mr Abbott at his campaign launch.
Opinion polls show voters are slowly warming to his style. Mr Abbott has slashed Mr Rudd’s commanding 14-point lead as preferred prime minister in July to just three points.
Mr Abbott also promoted the stability and unity of his team, in contrast to the leadership instability under Labour, which dumped Mr Rudd in 2010 but then brought him back in June.
“So my question is this: if the people who’ve worked with Mr Rudd don’t trust him, why should you,” Mr Abbott asked voters.
Mr Abbott also promised to repeat the economic management of his mentor, former prime minister John Howard, who cut debt and delivered surplus budgets during his 11-and-a-half years in office until late 2007. Mr Howard was given a prolonged ovation when he took his seat at the front of the campaign launch.
With both the Labour government and Mr Abbott’s opposition promising to control spending, both parties have run low-key election campaigns with few big promises, opting instead for negative attacks on each other.
Mr Abbott’s, centrepiece policy is a plan for a generous parental leave scheme, where the government will pay new mothers up to six months of their salary, capped at up to A$75,000 (£43,500), if they take time off to look after a newborn.
Mr Abbott said he would work to recognise Australia’s disadvantaged Aborigines in the country’s constitution and promised to continue visiting indigenous communities.
“As long as I am in public life, I will continue to spend a week a year in a remote indigenous community as I’ve done over the past decade,” he said.