SYDNEY: Triumphant conservative leader Tony Abbott vowed yesterday to “get down to business” and be prime minister for all Australians after his resounding election victory ended six years of tumultuous Labour rule.
Labour, led by the charismatic Kevin Rudd, were punished in Saturday’s polls for bitter in-fighting that saw the outgoing premier oust Julia Gillard as party leader in June, after she did the same to him in 2010.
In what the Herald Sun billed as his first interview, Abbott pledged to forge ahead with his agenda to stop asylum-seeker boats — an issue that dominated the campaign — and abolish a tax on carbon emissions from “day one”.
But he also signalled his intention to recast himself as a national leader and draw a line under a bitter and divisive campaign that alienated voters.
“I am very conscious of the fact that opposition leaders are tribal chiefs but prime ministers have to be national leaders,” Abbott said.
“You have to govern for everyone including the people that didn’t vote for you and the people who probably won’t ever support you. That’s the nature of the job.
“While I certainly can’t promise that everyone is going to agree with everything an incoming government does, I certainly intend to be a consultative, collegiate prime minister.”
Abbott, who has softened his macho image and ran a disciplined campaign in contrast to the disarray within the Labour-led government, took victory in his stride and began his day with his usual Sunday morning bike ride.
Just hours after declaring Australia was “under new management”, the athletic premier-elect had donned his sky blue and purple Lycra shorts and helmet to join his mates cycling in Sydney.
“It was a very big night but this is just the start of another normal day,” the 55-year-old told reporters. “People expect that the day after an election, an incoming government will be getting down to business and that’s what I’ll be doing today.” Despite the convincing win for the conservatives, Labour escaped the total rout pollsters had predicted.
The election commission count is a prolonged affair with complicated preference voting, but with more than 90 percent tallied Abbott’s coalition led in 86 seats and Labour was on 57 in the 150-seat House of Representatives.
Four seats were too close to call, the Greens were ahead in one, and an independent and a minor party were leading the other two.
Among early victors was former Olympian Nova Peris who became the first Aboriginal woman elected to parliament, a welcome achievement for centre-left Labour.
Half the spots in the Senate or upper house were also at stake in Saturday’s ballot, and fringe groups looked to have secured several seats thanks to voter dissatisfaction with the main parties -- complicating the new government’s legislative push.
Billionaire Clive Palmer, a resources baron who has run an eccentric campaign, was confident of winning a seat for himself in the lower house and as many as two in the Senate for his populist Palmer United Party.
“If I am given the task of leading the government in the Senate, it will be a bit like herding cats trying to get the legislation through,” admitted conservative lawmaker Eric Abetz.
Political observers forecast an insular period for Australia where domestic concerns will trump foreign policy, as Abbott tries to win back the confidence of alienated citizens with a back-to-basics agenda of roads, childcare and Internet access. AFP