Australian election: The final pitch

By Greg Ansley

As Australia prepares to go to the polls Prime Minister Kevin Rudd grabs last-minute lifeline of large undecided vote, but Labor's campaign of 'attack ads' proves a turn-off for most

A slender lifeline has been handed to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd as voters prepare to go to the polls tomorrow to decide who will lead Australia for the next three years.

While opinion polls have unanimously predicted doom for Labor, a new survey of more than a million voters showed that one in eight still had not decided who to support - and more of them were leaning towards Rudd than Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.

The dim light at the end of an otherwise coal-black tunnel came as Rudd made his final pitch to voters at the National Press Club in Canberra, launching into the Coalition's decision not to release its election costings until yesterday afternoon.

But he was also hit by analysis showing that Labor's attack advertising campaign had failed to win over voters.

Key elements of the Coalition plan include large cuts to foreign aid to fund infrastructure spending in Australia and a boost of A$6 billion ($6.97 billion) to the budget's bottom line.

So what stood out in the campaign right at the end?

1. The undecided vote

Rudd has been counting on a large pool of undecided voters to save Labor as polls predicted a massive swing to the Coalition that would give Abbott an outright majority in the House of Representatives.

His estimate that 15 per cent had not made up their minds as the end of the campaign neared was widely dismissed by political analysts, who believed most Australians had been locked into their vote for weeks.

Yesterday, the ABC's Vote Compass, a survey testing the policy positions of more than 1.1 million Australians, found 14 per cent still were not sure who to support. Applied nationally, that represents about 2 million voters.

Most of the undecided were women and the young, who other polls have shown mostly support Labor.

Vote Compass said 37 per cent of undecided voters in its survey were leaning towards Labor, 27 per cent to the Opposition, and 17 per cent to the Greens.

Both Abbott and Rudd have said they disbelieved mainstream polling and that the election would be far tighter than polls suggested, similar to analysis of American polling after last year's presidential election.

2. Rudd's last stand

In his final campaign speech, Rudd invoked Labor's reforming history while warning that the Opposition was trying to drive the nation back to a "mythical, imaginary" past - a "cocktail of the 1950s, Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey all wrapped together where everyone knew their station in life".

"I genuinely fear for what the Liberals would do in office," he said. "I don't want an Australia that is divided into winners and losers. I don't want an Australia that is wrapped in dispute and division and thrown into a new culture of confrontation."

Rudd attacked Abbott's decision to hold his campaign costs back until the advertising blackout took effect on Wednesday night, saying it was extraordinary he had given voters less than 48 hours to examine them.

Rudd said this was a deliberate ploy to evade scrutiny of "massive cuts" planned for education, health and other programmes.

3. Abbott's economic blueprint

Abbott rejected Rudd's claims, saying that climate change and broadband policies left out of the costings were already well known and "bulletproof".

"No Opposition in our history has been as thorough and as prudent in respect of its costings and its policies than this Opposition," he said.

Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey said the Coalition was putting in place the tools needed to grow the economy and provide job security, improving the budget outlook by A$6.3 billion and reducing government debt of A$16 billion.

Savings of A$31 billion had previously been released. Yesterday's announcement added another A$9 billion, about A$4.5 billion of which would be provided by cutting foreign aid to help fund roads, rail freight and bridging programmes.

"Australia can best provide sustainable assistance overseas when our economy is strong and the budget is in a sustainable surplus," the finance spokesman said.

Other savings would come from axing the A$2.4 billion regional infrastructure fund financed by the mining tax - also to be repealed if Abbott wins - and a range of other measures.

4. Attack ads failed

Labor advertising attacking Abbott in a bid to present a hidden slash-and-burn Coalition agenda, in the hope of scaring voters back to Labor, has instead turned many people off. Abbott's similar tactics have also failed.

A Morgan Research survey of voters' reactions to campaign advertising has found that Labor's "If Abbott wins, you lose" ads fared worst, followed by the Coalition's "Carbon tax lie".

In contrast, the most well-received ads were positive, led by the Liberals' "New Hope" campaign, ahead of upbeat ads by the Greens and Labor.

- NZ Herald

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