SYDNEY – Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on Monday likened rival Tony Abbott’s “baddies versus baddies” comments on Syria to a children’s game of cowboys and Indians, saying he is unfit to deal with foreign policy.
Abbott is the front-runner to win Saturday’s general elections over center-left Labor Party incumbent Rudd, with a new opinion poll Monday showing he has overtaken his rival as the preferred next prime minister for the first time in four years.
The poll in The Australian showed 43 percent of voters now see Abbott as the better prime minister to Rudd’s 41 percent, while his conservative coalition has opened a lead of 54 to 46 percent over Labor on a two-party basis.
While Abbott is on track for victory, his diplomatic credentials are being increasingly questioned after he said Sunday that the escalating Syria conflict “is not goodies versus baddies, it is baddies versus baddies.”
Rudd said the simplistic language trivialized the matter, and he mocked Abbott as a graduate from the “John Wayne school of international relations.”
“International relations is more complex than a 1950s John Wayne western,” said Rudd, a Mandarin-speaking former foreign minister and diplomat.
He added later: “I mean, the last time I used the term ‘goodies and baddies’ was when I was playing cowboys and Indians in the backyard when I was about 10.
“We’re talking about serious matters of international security and international relations, and the alternative prime minister of Australia is referring to this as no more complex than goodies and baddies or baddies versus baddies. These remarks demonstrate that he is not competent and not comfortable with national security and foreign policy.”
Abbott, described by Rudd last week as “an exceptionally aggressive and negative politician,” defended his remarks, saying, “I’ve made the point that this is a civil war between two more or less equally unsavory sides.”
He added, “I think we’re seeing a little bit more hyperventilation from a desperately shrill government.”
“Interestingly, people such as (British Prime Minister) David Cameron and (former U.S. President) Bill Clinton have referred to good guys and not so good guys. I think the odd use of colloquialism is perfectly appropriate if you are trying to explain to the public exactly what the situation is.”
His comments came as Australia assumed the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council and as U.S. President Barack Obama launched a lobbying effort to sway skeptical lawmakers as they weigh whether to support military strikes against Syria over a chemical weapons attack on civilians.
While Abbott seems destined to become Australia’s next leader, he was keen Monday to play down the latest opinion poll, warning his rival could never be written off.
“I want to make it absolutely crystal clear, I do not believe the polls,” he said. “Mr. Rudd has been a poor prime minister, but never forget that he beat John Howard in 2007, and John Howard was the most successful prime minister since Robert Menzies.
“So you’ve got to respect Mr. Rudd’s campaigning abilities, even if you don’t necessarily have to respect his governing abilities.”
In a series of interviews Monday, Rudd insisted Labor can still win Saturday.
“We entered this campaign as the underdog, we remain the underdog. So let’s just call a spade a spade — that’s as it is,” he told reporters.
“If you’re uncertain about what Mr. Abbott’s putting out there, then I think listen to your instincts and don’t vote for him.”