SYDNEY – Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd refused to concede defeat Friday despite a new poll showing he is heading for an election wipe-out as the media swung behind rival Tony Abbott.
The Galaxy survey in the Sydney Daily Telegraph, a day before voters cast their ballots, found Rudd has failed to make any inroads on the conservative opposition leader.
On a two-party basis, Labor is trailing 47 to 53 percent, with the newspaper saying the coalition could pick up an extra 20 to 25 seats in the lower House of Representatives.
An overwhelming 78 percent of the 1,503 people questioned said Abbott had performed better during the election campaign. Just 8 percent said Rudd, with the rest undecided.
But the prime minister, who has struggled for traction after toppling Julia Gillard, Australia’s first female leader, just weeks before calling the election, said he was not ready to give up.
“I’ve seen those sorts of gaps made up in the past and I think there are so many people undecided out there about what Mr. Abbott’s massive cuts mean to them,” he said.
“I think as we get closer to the vote tomorrow, people will say ‘Will these massive cuts hurt my job, hurt my hospital, will they hurt my school?’. . . . And I think those are the questions that will focus undecided voters as they go to vote.”
The economy has been a key election battleground and the opposition on Thursday pledged 40 billion Australian dollars ($36.7 billion) of savings if it wins.
Rudd added: “We continue to fight right through till 6 p.m. tomorrow,” referring to when the polls close, and seized on the coalition announcing, then retracting on Thursday evening, plans for a mandatory Internet porn filter.
He called the policy back flip a “debacle.”
“How many other policies do they have in their bottom draw that they don’t want to tell Australians about?” he said.
Despite his fighting words, Rudd appears to have an insurmountable task with all the nation’s main newspapers, bar The Age in Melbourne, backing Abbott in election eve editorials.
“Australia is crying out for a stable government that can be trusted to deliver what it promises. The Herald believes only the coalition can achieve that,” Fairfax Media’s Sydney Morning Herald said on its front page.
Rupert Murdoch’s Daily Telegraph, which has been running an anti-Rudd campaign since the election was announced, said its stance had been justified.
“Following two terms of Labor chaos, in-fighting, confusion and lack of focus, this election campaign has demonstrated Labor’s terminal dysfunction in concentrated form,” it said.
“Australia genuinely does need a new way. The men and women who are best able to deliver it come from the coalition.”
While the clear frontrunner to become Australia’s 29th prime minister, Abbott said it was too early to start celebrating.
“It’s like being in a grand final, five minutes to go, only a goal or two in it, anything could happen,” he said, but admitted to thinking about the prospect and was somewhat daunted.
“If it happens I will be extraordinarily conscious of the heavy burden of responsibilities, of duties, that will have descended on my shoulders,” he said.
“Inevitably, anyone who is suddenly given a big job, even if you have been preparing for it for years and you know you are ready for it, when it happens, if it happens, you are conscious of being on a great threshold.”
Asked what he would do on his first day as prime minister, he said he would go for a bike ride “with the guys I’ve been riding with for years.”
“Then into the office to do briefings because you can’t muck around with something as important as the future of our country.”
Rinehart suggests pay-way-out-of-jail plan
Australia’s richest person Gina Rinehart has suggested that non-violent prisoners could pay their way out of jail and become tax-paying workers to boost the economy.
In a column for the Australian Resources and Investment magazine, the mining heiress said the country needed more workers as the population ages, and getting criminals back into the workforce would bolster tax revenues.
“Let them pay to get out of prison or not enter prison (a new source of revenue), and let them be part of the tax-paying workforce,” she wrote in the September issue.
Rinehart, who has mining and media interests, said a similar system was used in the U.S. state of Texas and had proved a more humane, cost-effective and successful way of dealing with non-violent prisoners.