Gillard paints Abbott as riskier choice

By Greg Ansley

Prime Minister Julia Gillard yesterday officially launched her campaign into cyberspace as polls continued to show the Government inching towards victory in the national vote, but still at serious risk in the seats that will decide next Saturday's election.

Her launch, in a city surrounded by volatile electorates still angry at the deposing of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and the performance of the State Labor Government, was designed to cement the Government's advantage in the final week of one of the closest contests in decades.

The only new policy announced - a A$392 million ($476 million) programme for online medical services - hammered home Labor's claim to be the party of the future, bringing high-speed broadband to every aspect of Australian life.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has said he will axe the fibre-optic national broadband network at present being rolled out and which will allow a vast range of new economic and social services, replacing it with a far cheaper, but much slower, system.

Abbott has portrayed the Government as a profligate and incompetent economic manager and has focused much of his campaign on attacks that Gillard yesterday described as a policy of fear.

Gillard also hit back at Abbott's claims to economic competency, saying he was promising policies at the rate of A$1 billion a day every day of the campaign, and intended to pay for many of those by deep cuts in education and health.

"He wants to put company tax up, I want to put it down, he stands for more tax in this campaign, I stand for tax cuts," she said.

"The real risk of debt and deficit is Mr Abbott."

Labor has produced a telling series of campaign advertisements using archived quotes by former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard and former Treasurer Peter Costello belittling Abbott's economic credentials.

A Newspoll in the Australian yesterday said the attack appeared to be working: the Opposition's previous 12-point lead in economic management has narrowed to 1 point.

The latest Newspoll also said that Labor led the two-party preferred vote by 52 per cent to 48 per cent, had closed the gap in primary votes to three points, and Gillard remained preferred Prime Minister by a 15-point margin.

But marginal seats remain critical to the outcome of the election.

Abbott spent the day in volatile western Sydney marginals with a message tailored to the area's swinging voters: an end to Government waste, get rid of federal debt and repay the deficit, no "big new taxes" and stop asylum seekers' boats.

"The people of western Sydney have been well and truly dudded by Labor, first by State Labor, now by Federal Labor," he said.

Gillard warned supporters that polling in marginal seats suggested Abbott could become Australia's next Prime Minister: "That's too big a risk."

The potential impact of Rudd's ousting, although muted to a large degree by a frosty reconciliation with Gillard, remains a problem - especially in his home state of Queensland, but also in other regions where Labor is vulnerable.

Howard was on the campaign trail in Perth yesterday, hammering both Gillard and Rudd for their refusal to openly discuss the circumstances of the coup: "The great problem is we have people resenting what they see as the democratic process as being interfered with."

Rudd was given a standing ovation as he entered Labor's launch, and was welcomed by Gillard as "a man of great achievements, with great achievements to lie ahead in the future of our nation".

Rudd has been promised a senior Cabinet post if Labor is returned to office.

Two of the three other living former Labor Prime Ministers - Gough Whitlam, 94, and Paul Keating - did not attend.

But Bob Hawke was there to urge Gillard to outlast him in the job, and to attack the "braying of mindless Tories" and the "nothingness of the Liberals".

Gillard's address focused heavily on Labor's economic record and its performance during the global financial crisis, from which she said it had emerged as the strongest economy in the developed world, with more than 500,000 jobs created while 16 million were lost in the other advanced economies.

She said the extent of public debt was equivalent to a person on an income of $100,000 owing $6000, and would be repaid within three years: "I will not delay by an hour, by one day - the budget is coming back into surplus by 2013."


* Tony Abbott, promising that he would make the decision to turn asylum seekers' boats back at sea: "But you do it based on the advice of the naval commanders on the spot."

* Julia Gillard in reply: "What Mr Abbott wants [a] commander to do is to take their eyes off the safety of their crew, take their eyes off the ocean, take their eyes off people smugglers, go inside the cabin and give him a call. Then presumably, from the safety of Kirribilli [House in Sydney] as he watches luxury yachts go by, Mr Abbott is going to provide some advice to that commander about how to stop the boats."

* The Daily Telegraph's illustrated take on Abbott's call: "Holy Asylum Seekers - It's Boatman!"

* Treasurer Wayne Swan, on Abbott and a second leaders' debate: "Here's a bloke whose daily exercise programme now includes running away from a debate on the economy."

* Former Labor leader and election wildcard Mark Latham on 60 Minutes, advocating informal voting: "When it comes to good ideas for Australia's future, Gillard and Abbott have given voters a blank piece of paper, so let's give them a blank piece of paper in return."

* Paul Sheehan in the Sydney Morning Herald: "Our Prime Minister is a liar. A serial liar. Brazen ... but I don't think this will deter the electorate from returning Julia Gillard's Government to office next Saturday."

- NZ Herald

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