SYDNEY: Australian election frontrunner Tony Abbott on Wednesday vowed Asia will be his main foreign policy focus if he assumes office, as an influential media group turned on incumbent Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
The conservative Abbott, whose diplomatic credentials came under fire this week after he said the Syria conflict was “baddies versus baddies,” is on track to win Saturday’s poll.
His first travel priorities would be Indonesia, China, Japan and South Korea, he said in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, the flagship paper of Fairfax Media whose chairman on Wednesday declared his support for the conservative.
“Only after our regional and trading partners have been suitably attended to would I make the traditional trips to Washington and London,” Abbott said, adding that “in the end your focus has got to be on the relationships that need the most attention.”
“Decisions which impact on our national interests will be made in Jakarta, in Beijing, in Tokyo, in Seoul, as much as they will be made in Washington.
“There’s a sense in which we kind of know what the decisions in Washington or London will be. We can be less certain about decisions that might be made in Jakarta and Beijing.”
Abbott said his first trip would be to Indonesia, where most boats bringing asylum-seekers to Australia—a key election issue—originate.
“By virtue of its size, proximity, its developing power, overall it’s the most important country to Australia,” he said.
Abbott’s foreign policy credentials have been criticized during the election campaign, culminating this week when he said the escalating Syria conflict “is not goodies versus baddies, it is baddies versus baddies.”
Rudd, a former foreign minister, said the simplistic language trivialized the matter and demonstrated “that he is not competent and not comfortable with national security and foreign policy.”
Nonetheless it appears that Abbott is destined for high office with recent opinion polls
putting his conservative coalition comfortably ahead of Labor.
Rudd’s task of hanging onto power has been made harder by the dominant media group, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., running a campaign against him, and Fairfax, the other major player, appeared to join their rival on Wednesday.
In an interview with broadcaster ABC, Fairfax chairman Roger Corbett accused Rudd, who ousted Julia Gillard in a party room coup in June, of destabilizing and damaging Labor.
“In my view, Kevin Rudd is a leader that has been really discredited by his own conduct,” he said, adding that Abbott was “a very sincere, nice type of human being.”
“Here’s a man that has really done the Labor Party enormous damage, destabilized it and is now wishing to present himself to the Australian people as a prime minister… and as the incoming prime minister,” he added of Rudd.
“I don’t think the Australian people will cop that, to be quite honest, and I think that’s very sad for the Labor Party.”
Rudd, who remains confident Labor can pulled off an improbable election victory, brushed off Corbett’s criticism.
“It’s a matter for Mr. Corbett. It’s a free country, anyone can say what they like,” he said, focusing instead on gross domestic product data that showed the economy expanded a steady 0.6 percent in April to June from the previous quarter.
“As of this year, since we came to office in 2007, the Australian economy is 15 percent bigger than it was,” he said.
“Therefore, the economic credentials of this nation run by this government over this period of time are strong.”
Abbott, campaigning in Sydney, continued to argue that he does not have the election in the bag, despite what the opinion polls indicate.
“Yes I am confident, but I am not cocky or complacent, because anything can happen in these last few days,” he told reporters.