Sep 09, 2013

    Local focus for Aussie politics

    AUSTRALIAN politics looks set for a period dominated by domestic concerns as new prime minister Tony Abbott seeks to move on from a vitriolic campaign and focus on local issues, analysts said yesterday.

    The conservative leader, who ended six years of Labor rule with a comprehensive victory over Mr Kevin Rudd on Saturday, vowed to "get down to business" and to be prime minister for all Australians.

    In an open letter yesterday, Mr Abbott said he would immediately implement his border-protection plan, under which the Australian navy would turn back Indonesian fishing boats carrying asylum seekers into Australian waters.

    His coalition announced last week that, if elected, it would plan to save A$4.5 billion (S$5.3 billion) over the next four years by reducing increases in its aid spending.

    Political observers forecast an insular period for Australia where domestic concerns will trump foreign policy, as Mr Abbott tries to regain the confidence of alienated citizens with a back-to-basics agenda.

    "At first take, I would suggest we're going to see a far more inward-looking government than we have previously," said Dr Norman Abjorensen of the Australian National University's College of Asia and the Pacific.

    "I think the foreshadowed cuts to our foreign-aid budget last week really put the writing on the wall that we're going to look at domestic policy as being all-important," he added.

    In contrast to Mandarin-speaking former diplomat Rudd and his "Australia in the Asian Century" objectives, Mr Abbott has not shown a "flicker of interest" in foreign affairs in the course of his political career, Dr Abjorensen said.

    Mr Abbott was ridiculed in some quarters for describing the conflict in Syria as "baddies versus baddies" during the election race.

    He will now try to put in place major revisions to government policy, starting with his promise to repeal former prime minister Julia Gillard's central policy achievement: an emissions-trading plan that is the world's second largest, after the European Union's.

    The election-commission count is a prolonged affair with complicated preference voting but, with more than 90 per cent tallied, Mr Abbott's coalition led in 86 seats and Labor was on 57 in the 150-seat House of Representatives.

    Labor's defeat led Mr Rudd to announce that he was stepping down as party leader.