Australia's conservative leader Tony Abbott, expected to win national elections on Saturday and end six years of Labor rule, cast his vote at a Sydney surf club, joking he'd rather be enjoying the beach than campaigning.
A confident Abbott, who is often photographed in his swimming costume at his local Manly Beach, was accompanied by his wife and daughters in warm spring sunshine. But while Abbott and his supporters enjoyed the sunshine, opinion polls say voters are set to send a chill down the ruling Labor party, throwing it from office and giving Abbott an overwhelming majority and ending three years of a hung parliament.
Abbott, 55, told reporters that Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had failed to govern for all Australians and that was why Australians needed to vote for a change on Saturday. "I'm in a suit. I sort of wish I was out there on the waves. It's a nice wave for an elderly long boarder this morning," Abbott said, adding he did not trust the polls which pointed to an easy conservative win. "Anything can happen today. I don't believe the polls, Kevin Rudd doesn't believe the polls. I think it's still very close." The election has been pitched as a choice on who is best to lead the resource-rich nation as its economy adjusts to an end to a prolonged mining investment boom, fuelled by China's demand for natural resources.
Abbott built up a strong poll lead on the back of promises to rein in government spending, scrap an unpopular tax on carbon emissions, and stop the flow of refugee boats arriving in Australia's northwest. The super-fit Abbott, a keen cyclist who often exercises before dawn, has also promised to restore government stability after three years of a hung parliament and Labor's change of prime minister twice in three years.
Rudd, who replaced Australia's first female prime minister Julia Gillard in late June, has painted Abbott's planned spending cuts as dangerous European-style austerity and said his government is best placed to manage a slowing economy. Two last minute polls on Saturday, Newspoll in the Australian newspaper and Nielsen in the Fairfax media, found Abbott's Liberal Party would win 54% of the national vote, compared to 46 percent for Rudd's Labor. That would give Abbott an overwhelming majority of around 40 seats in the 150 seat parliament.