Tony Abbott Poised to Become Australia’s PM (Page 2 of 2)

Policy Divide

While the economy traditionally is the major election issue, another seemingly lower-ranking issue came to dominate much of the campaign.

“Strangely, paid parental leave has been the pivotal policy difference,” Griffith University’s Williams said. “Much of the Rudd campaign has been tailored around Australia can’t afford it, it’s unfair and inequitable. It’s unusual in that in other campaigns what might be considered a second tier issue has dominated.”

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Abbott’s pledge to spend A$5.5 billion a year on the scheme, funded by a levy on business, has attracted criticism from within his Coalition as well as business groups.

Both major parties have pledged to return the federal budget to surplus within ten years, with the Coalition vowing to scrap the carbon and mining taxes as well as cut company tax (which would be offset by the levy).

Careful to avoid Labor attacks on its fiscal plans, the Coalition delayed announcing its budget policy until September 5, when it announced plans to cut the budget deficit by around A$6 billion a year over three years, helped by a A$4.5 billion reduction in foreign aid.

The measure was attacked by aid groups, while economists also lambasted both sides’ failure to address a growing revenue gap.

"The government might be in deficit for nearly a decade in the scheme of things, as a result of where we stand on the budget," HSBC chief economist Paul Bloxham told ABC News.

Despite media focus on asylum seeker policy, the issue failed to attract much attention during the campaign with Williams describing it as “way down on voters’ radar…this election is clearly about cost of living.”

The Big Picture

So-called “big picture” issues such as climate change barely registered during the campaign, with voters seemingly more worried about their hip pockets. While both parties pledged to restore defense spending to two percent of GDP, neither side set a timetable for doing so, a fact criticized by the Lowy Institute’s Rory Medcalf.

“Defense funding has dropped off at the very time when the challenges in the region have been getting bigger,” Medcalf told the Australian Institute of International Affairs at an August 27 meeting in Brisbane.

Arguing that neither party had addressed the region’s worsening security environment, Medcalf warned that Australia was ill prepared for potential regional conflicts, with defense spending at its lowest proportion of GDP since before the Second World War.

Yet despite criticism of Abbott as favoring the “Anglosphere” of the United States and Britain over Asia, the Liberal leader told the Lowy Institute that his first overseas trip as prime minister would be to Indonesia, China, Japan and South Korea.

The IPA’s Wilson said foreign policy had traditionally been a bipartisan issue and there would not be any radical changes under a new government: “You’ll see a more supportive position towards Israel, the United States and the Anglosphere, but it won’t go any further than that.”

Williams said foreign policy would not change greatly under Abbott, except for a slight change of emphasis toward traditional allies, including in Asia.

“It’s pretty obvious that Kevin Rudd valued the Chinese relationship extremely highly and some criticized him for forgetting our older friend, Japan…that’s probably the only nuance of difference,” he said.

With both analysts approached by The Diplomat expecting a comfortable Coalition victory, Abbott’s first task as prime minister will be confronting a widening budget deficit, growing regional and international tensions including Syria, and an electorate that has become accustomed to economic success and expanding government largesse.

While not entirely a poisoned chalice, Abbott will hope his honeymoon lasts longer than the man he is likely to replace as Australia’s leader.

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