The growing appeal of marketable man Tony Abbott

By Kathy Marks

Australia's opposition leader Tony Abbott. Photo / AP
Australia's opposition leader Tony Abbott. Photo / AP

Tony Abbott, if the polls are to be believed, has many fans - but probably few quite so enthusiastic as Nio Barbaro, who knelt at the Opposition Leader's feet yesterday and then, grabbing him with both hands, planted a kiss on his forehead.

The encounter took place at the sprawling Flemington markets, which Abbott visited during a day-long swing through Labor marginal seats in Sydney's south and west. And if the reaction of fruit and vegetable growers is anything to go by, his Coalition will stroll into power on Saturday.

The Liberal leader was given a rapturous reception. Locals welcomed him as if he were already prime minister. "Congratulations on Saturday," one told him. "We can't get ahead of ourselves," he replied, genially. No one could have curbed the passion of Barbaro, an egg producer, who urged Abbott to "fix this country up". As the latter posed for photographs with market gardeners and shoppers, one woman yelled: "Lead us to victory, Tony!" Forklift drivers beeped their appreciation.

Flemington is in Reid, one of five Sydney seats where Labor has a majority of less than 5 per cent. Analysts expect the Liberals to sweep up as many as eight seats in the city's south and west, including the bellwether electorate of Lindsay, which Abbott visited again yesterday, with his "sex appeal" candidate, Fiona Scott, in tow. Abbott got into trouble with that remark last month. Yesterday, apparently unrepentant, he told contestants in the Big Brother house on the Gold Coast that "I'm the guy with the not bad-looking daughters". The video message, in which he appeared with two of those long-suffering young women, Frances and Bridget, was one of four which party leaders pre-recorded for the TV housemates.

Julia Gillard's former schools minister, Peter Garrett, used to have rock star appeal, but the ex-Midnight Oil frontman is one of many retiring Labor MPs. That leaves Matt Thistlethwaite, a former NSW senator, to contest Kingsford Smith, where Abbott visited a Mitre 10 in Matraville. Among those determined to thwart Thistlethwaite is Elias Reuben, a Mitre 10 paint specialist who migrated from Singapore 34 years ago. "We all want a change. Australians have woken up to themselves," he said.

As he chatted with voters, Abbott appeared calm, disciplined and self-confident. At every stop, he reiterated a simple message: a Coalition government will "scrap the carbon tax, end the waste, stop the boats and build the roads of the 21st century".

In Matraville, flanked by Michael Feneley, a 59-year-old cardiologist hoping to relieve Labor of Kingsford Smith for the first time since the seat was created in 1949, the Liberal leader announced an incentive payment of A$3250 ($3778) over six months for employers who hire workers aged over 50. In Penrith, he promised A$35 million for a road upgrade at an unpopular traffic bottleneck. With him was Stuart Ayres, Penrith's state Liberal MP, who won the seat in 2010. Ayres will have many more colleagues in Sydney's west come this weekend.

- NZ Herald

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