Australian voters are set to elect Tony Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition to manage the $1.5 trillion economy, as preliminary results show the Labor party being ejected after six years in power.
The coalition was ahead in 77 of the 150 districts up for grabs in the lower house, where government is formed, with 70.1 percent of the vote counted, compared with Kevin Rudd’s Labor on 53, the Australian Electoral Commission said on its website. The Australian Broadcasting Corp. projected an Abbott victory.
Abbott, 55, a Rhodes Scholar and former trainee priest, has seen his popularity rise during the five-week campaign, vowing to repeal Labor’s carbon price mechanism and mining profits tax. Rudd, 55, who returned to the leadership 10 weeks ago by ousting Julia Gillard, has struggled to convince voters he should be elected as three years of infighting and policy reversals damage perceptions of Australia’s oldest political party.
“The division that we’ve seen has been disastrous,” outgoing Health Minister Tanya Plibersek told Australian Broadcasting Corp. “I’d give us 9 out of 10 for governing the country; I’d give us 0 out of 10 for governing ourselves. It’s pretty plain we had too many people playing their own games and no playing for the team. We were not disciplined enough.”
Television networks including ABC, Sky News and Nine projected the coalition has won the election.
“The train has been coming for Labor for a long time and it’s suddenly hit in a big way,” said Norman Abjorensen, a political analyst at the Australian National University in Canberra. “Labor’s whole thrust during its campaign has been to minimize damage, but realistically it’s now looking at a long time out of power, which may give it some time to get its house in order.”
Labor’s performance reflected a “vote on disunity,” Treasurer Chris Bowen told the Nine Network. “The party going forward needs to build on the achievements of the last six years, but also remind ourselves of the importance of unity amongst the most senior members of our party.”
Erin Miller, 30, an executive assistant in the non-profit sector, said she switched allegiances after voting for Labor in the previous two elections. “I don’t particularly like Tony Abbott, but I don’t think the Labor party has done a good job over the past few years,” she said.
Benny Ng, 38, a Hong Kong born hospital administrator who arrived in Australia about 25 years ago, said the biggest issue for him had been a lack of stability in leadership.
“The fact that Tony Abbott has actually held together in opposition the same team for three and a half years speaks volumes,” he said in the main ballroom of the Four Seasons hotel, where coalition supporters had gathered to await Abbott. “People are really looking for stable governance.”
Abbott will be responsible for an economy that has avoided consecutive quarters of contraction -- the local definition of a recession -- for 22 years. Signs of a slowdown have emerged, with interest rates cut to record lows to counter rising unemployment, forecast by Treasury last month to reach a more than decade-high 6.25 percent next year, as a China-led resources-investment boom fades.
The coalition, whose last term in office ended in 2007 after nearly 12 years, is pledging to cut taxes while funding a A$5.5 billion ($5 billion) per year maternity-leave program. It plans to cut red tape; reduce the civil service by at least 12,000 positions; lower subsidies for automakers; cancel handouts to parents of school children and achieve a budget surplus equal to 1 percent of gross domestic product within a decade.
Rudd, 55, on June 26 won back the Labor leadership lost to Gillard in a back-room party coup three years earlier. The term of Australia’s first female prime minister was hobbled by questions about her legitimacy after she formed a minority government with support from independents and the Greens, reneging on a pledge not to implement a carbon tax.
“This is probably a verdict not so much on Rudd-Gillard personally, but I think it is a verdict on six years where there’s been division and there’s been disunity,” Liberal Senator Arthur Sinodinos said on ABC. “Kevin was not able to be the circuit breaker.”
Voters were tired of the divisions within Labor, said former Queensland Premier Peter Beattie, who stood as a Labor candidate in the district of Forde. “People will dissect the gizzards, and pull out bits and pieces, but that is the reason why this election is going the way it is, that is the core issue,” he told the ABC.
Since returning to power, Rudd has called on Abbott to outline how he’ll fund promised tax cuts and spending increases on education, disabled care and paid parental leave at a time of weaker-than-forecast government revenue, saying he has a “hidden agenda” to implement drastic reductions to services.
Forty of the 76 seats in the upper house will also be decided. While final results for the Senate, where the Greens hold the balance of power, may not be known for several weeks, a swing from Labor is expected, according to Zareh Ghazarian, a political analyst at Monash University in Melbourne.
“The party made a solid start in its first three years but saw enormous damage in its final three, when voters grew concerned it was more concerned with internal matters than running the country,” Ghazarian said.