Change of Government Looking Likely in Australian Elections

By Shar Adams
Shar Adams
Shar Adams
September 5, 2013 Updated: September 9, 2013

SYDNEY—The Liberal–National coalition remains well ahead in national polls as the Australian electorate prepares to vote Saturday, Sept. 7, despite a slight shift in the incumbent Labor Party’s favor.

The coalition’s two-party preferred lead was 52–48 Wednesday, down from 53–47 the week before, according to a ReachTEL automated phone poll. Opposition leader Tony Abbott remains ahead of Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd 53–47 on a preferred prime minister rating in the same poll.

The latest survey is in line with other national polls suggesting Australian voters will give the conservative opposition a clear majority this election following six years of controversial Labor rule.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, elected in a landslide in 2007, was ousted by his own party just weeks before the last federal election 2010, and Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard was installed as leader. Gillard scraped in as prime minister only through deft negotiations with independents, but it left the Senate in a deadlock.

Consistent leaks and fighting within the Labor Party further undermined a difficult three-year term for Gillard and, in a similar move, Rudd was reinstalled as leader this June 26, again just weeks before the election.

British born, Abbott is a Rhodes scholar, a monarchist, a former journalist, and once trained for the Catholic priesthood. He has been a tough opponent during Labor’s term but continual party rows have left Labor an easy target during the election campaign. Abbott has toned down his rhetoric, staying largely focused on the electorate’s dissatisfaction with the Labor leadership while remaining light on details of his own policies.

The coalition withheld final budget figures till Thursday, the day after a compulsory blackout on political advertising began and just two days before Election Day. In its budget plan, it estimates savings of around $42 billion over the next four years.

The coalition has also promised to reduce the size of government and shed around 12,000 public service jobs. It will also scrap the mining tax, cut red, and “green tape” and introduce 1 million new jobs in the next five years but it has remained short on details on how that will be achieved.

Tony Abbott has also made it clear that he stands by his pre-election promise to do away with Labor’s emissions-trading scheme, stating that the removal of the carbon tax is among his first priorities if elected.

“More than anything, this election is a referendum on the carbon tax,” he said.

The coalition will retain Labor’s goal to reduce emissions by 5 percent by 2020 but will do so through a Direct Action policy, which involves paying companies to increase their energy efficiency while funding carbon sequestration and tree planting schemes.

Rudd, meanwhile, is adamant he can lead the Labor Party to a win, pointing to positive GDP figures, released Sept. 4, as proof of economic credentials.

“As of this year, since we came to office in 2007, the Australian economy is 15 percent bigger than it was,” he said.

National account figures showed a 2.6 percent rate of GDP growth, which while better than many other countries, was still below the long-term average.

Rudd warned that Tony Abbott’s threat to balance the budget through “massive cuts” in government spending will send Australia into recession.

“I fear an Australian economy which through Mr. Abbott’s massive cuts would risk triggering the economy into recession with huge hits on jobs and huge hits on growth,” he said.

Joseph Stiglitz, a professor of economics at Columbia University and a recipient of the Nobel Prize in economics, warned against cuts to government spending in an opinion piece for Fairfax Media Monday. He pointed to the failure of austerity measures in Europe, saying substantial cuts to the government budget would be a “grave mistake.”

He said Americans are a little bemused by concerns in Australia of national debt levels.

“Most countries would envy Australia’s economy,” he wrote.

Despite his clear lead in the polls Tony Abbott is not taking anything for granted and urged supporters not to become complacent in the final days.

“The last thing I want to do over the next seven days is to give anyone an excuse not to vote for the Coalition,” Abbott said while campaigning in North Queensland last weekend.

Shar Adams
Shar Adams