Australia opposition vows end to ‘gutless spin’ as PM lags

BRISBANE, Australia: Australia’s opposition leader Tony Abbott yesterday promised ‘real action’ instead of ‘gutless spin’ if voters topple embattled Prime Minister Julia Gillard in this month’s election.

The Liberal Party leader unveiled his plans to govern ahead of the August 21 poll by savaging Gillard and pledging jail time for people smugglers, a halt on wasteful government spending, to restore a budget surplus and lower taxes.

Spotlighting Labor Party rifts that have battered Gillard since she became Australia’s first woman leader after ousting Kevin Rudd in a backroom coup six weeks ago, Abbott touted his own party’s unity, fiscal prudence and experience in government.

“I am asking for your support to end the waste, to pay back the debt, to stop the big new taxes, to stop the boats and to help struggling families,” he told ecstatic supporters.

He charged that Labor’s immigration reforms had attracted boatpeople while government had run up a budget deficit by squandering billions of dollars on wasteful stimulus measures aimed at fighting the global financial crisis.

“Our task is nothing less than to save Australia from the worst government in its history,” he told the crowd in Queensland state, where the results in crucial marginal seats will swing the election.

Accusing the government of incompetence, he promised ‘real action’ if he is elected, compared to Labor’s record of ‘all talk but no action’.

“Let’s bury an era of gutless spin and give our country a fresh start, where politicians say what they mean and do what they say,” he said in a speech analysts said was short on vision.

Abbott, a devoutly Catholic fitness fanatic often dubbed the ‘Mad Monk’, has been tipped by four opinion polls in the past week to topple Gillard.

A rank outsider when the campaign began three weeks ago, his popularity has soared as the single atheist Gillard was battered by an avalanche of damaging body blows that have overshadowed her bid to win her own mandate to rule.

A day after her attempt to bury the hatchet with Rudd went awry when photos revealed visible tensions between the two, Abbott capitalised on the rift that has seen Gillard’s campaign descend into what he branded a ‘soap opera’.

“Why give the Labor Party a second chance when it wouldn’t give its own leader one?” he said, pointedly drawing attention to Rudd’s ruthless ouster.

As Abbott spoke, Rudd hit the campaign trail in a Brisbane shopping mall, with the awkward task of reviving support for Labor and the woman who deposed him.

Outlining his plans for his first three months in office, Abbott largely repeated already-stated positions, but announced one new measure aimed at appealing to voters worried about immigrant arrivals.

He pledged prison terms of at least 10 years for repeat people smugglers, highlighting the fact that 150 boats carrying 7,000 people have arrived on Australia’s shores since Rudd won power three years ago.

Abbott played up the experience of many of his front benchers who served under ex-prime minister John Howard until his 2007 defeat by Rudd.

Howard praised his protege’s highly-scripted and controlled performance as being that of ‘the future Australian prime minister’.

The Liberal party’s display of unity stood in sharp contrast to Labor’s ‘disarray’, he said.

Gillard, who will formally launch her own campaign next week, dismissed Abbott’s pledges as lacking in substance and pointed to the government’s record of steering Australia unscathed out of the global crisis.

“None of the other major advanced economies avoided recession and we did,” she said, adding Abbott would cut funding to crucial projects essential to Australia’s future, including a national broadband Internet network.

Treasurer Wayne Swan dismissed Abbott’s glitzy launch and sustained attack on Labor as proof he had no economic plan, just a list of uncosted pledges that will hurt plans to rebuild a budget surplus.

“I think today was perhaps the most negative, policy-free campaign launch that I have ever seen,” he told reporters.

“He didn’t release an economic plan today. We heard nothing about that.” — AFP

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