Australian election: Why jaded voters opted for Tony Abbott

Victory for Tony Abbott in Australia
Victory for Tony Abbott in Australia


    Victory for Tony Abbott in Australia


Victory for Tony Abbott in Australia 02:44

Story highlights

  • Questions remain about how Tony Abbott will handle top job, says Michelle Grattan
  • He inherits electorate that is disillusioned with and disengaged from politics, she adds
  • New PM, while conservative, is likely to be centrist and pragmatic - Grattan
  • Challenge for Australia is end reliance on mining sector

After six years of a Labor administration, including three tumultuous years of a hung parliament, Australian voters have returned to a conservative government and majority rule.

Kevin Rudd, reinstalled as prime minister by his party at the 11th hour, managed to contain the size of the loss, likely to have been a wipeout under former PM Julia Gillard.

New Prime Minister Tony Abbott had a long ministerial career in the former Howard Coalition government. But many questions remain about how he will handle the top job. He has been able to cruise into power primarily on Labor's infighting plus his promises to scrap the carbon tax, stop the asylum seeker boats and put the budget into better shape.

Tony Abbott pledges 'competent, trustworthy' government

He inherits an electorate that is disillusioned with and disengaged from politics, after continuous campaigning since 2010 because the parliament was on a knife edge. Labor's breaking of its promise not to bring in a carbon tax and the Coalition's years of negativity have left people jaded and cynical about all politicians.

Abbott had a clear ascendancy over Gillard, but the dynamics suddenly changed when Rudd - deposed by Gillard in 2010 - mounted his successful counter-coup in late June.

What worked for Tony Abbott
What worked for Tony Abbott


    What worked for Tony Abbott


What worked for Tony Abbott 04:25
Intruder upstages Abbott's victory speech
Intruder upstages Abbott's victory speech


    Abbott wins landslide Australia vote


Abbott wins landslide Australia vote 03:27
Intruder upstages Abbott's victory speech
Intruder upstages Abbott's victory speech


    Intruder upstages Abbott's victory speech


Intruder upstages Abbott's victory speech 01:13
How will Tony Abbott run Australia?
How will Tony Abbott run Australia?


    How will Tony Abbott run Australia?


How will Tony Abbott run Australia? 03:24

With his popularity and some policy changes, Rudd appeared to put Labor in a very competitive. perhaps even winning, position. But during the five week campaign, the dynamics altered again. It became clear Rudd (who didn't campaign well) would not be able to overcome voters' entrenched scepticism about a government that, despite earlier successfully navigating Australia through the global financial crisis and making some worthy policy changes, had become riven with leadership division.

The campaign was dominated by debate over which side was better to manage the economy; Labor's claims that Abbott had a $70 billion funding hole and would hack into health and education, and the ALP's record.

The media's coverage became an issue, with Rudd trenchantly attacking Rupert Murdoch, whose empire owns 14 of Australia's 21 metro daily and Sunday newspapers. The Murdoch tabloids were quite feral, with Sydney's Daily Telegraph beginning the campaign with the headline "Kick This Mob Out" and one front page having a mocked up Rudd and his deputy Anthony Albanese as the bumbling Nazis from Hogan's Heroes.

The new PM, while a conservative, is likely to be centrist and pragmatic. In the Howard cabinet he opposed the extreme industrial relations policy, WorkChoices, which contributed to that government's 2007 defeat. He has promised to be in the "sensible centre" on industrial relations.

A committed Catholic, he is anti-gay marriage (despite having a gay sister) but will leave it up to his party room as to whether there should be a conscience vote for Coalition MPs on any private member's bill on the subject.

Abbott says he will run a ''no surprises'' government. He has also promised not to break any election promises. This may be an impossible undertaking, but the backlash against Gillard after she -- under the pressure of minority government -- breached her ''no carbon tax'' pledge has been a lesson to all political leaders.

In Saturday night's victory speech Abbott said: ''From today, I declare that Australia is under new management and that Australia is once more open for business.'' The Australian economy is growing slightly under trend and unemployment is rising. The economy remains strong, but the outlook is uncertain, with much depending on China and commodity prices. The mining investment boom is ending and the challenge now is for Australia to manage the transition to increased reliance on other sectors.

One of Abbott's main difficulties will be dealing with the parliament's powerful upper house which, when the new senators take their places in July, will have a diverse collection of independent and micro party crossbenchers determining the fate of legislation.

On foreign policy, Abbott is a strong U.S. alliance man. He is also a believer in the "anglosphere," and was one of the leaders of the monarchist cause when in 1999 Australia had its failed republic referendum. But Abbott's focus will be heavily on Asia. He has said policy should emphasize "Jakarta rather than Geneva" -- a comment not only on the importance to be placed on the region, but also reflecting the Coalition's lack of faith in multilateralism. Abbott has promised an early visit to Jakarta, where he will try to persuade the reluctant Indonesians to accept his policy of turning back asylum seeker boats.

Opinion: Australian parties in 'race to bottom' on asylum seeker policy

During the election campaign Abbott took a more restrained approach towards a possible strike against Syria than did Rudd, a former foreign minister and diplomat.

As Abbott prepare his ministry, Labor is grappling with who is to be its new leader. Rudd will not contest. Favorite, if he decides to put his hand up, is outgoing deputy prime minister Anthony Albanese, with the other contender, outgoing education minister Bill Shorten saying he will only run as a consensus candidate. It won't be a great job to have any time soon.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

      Australian leadership

    • An Indonesian police man carries an exhausted young boy following more rescue by search and rescue team in Cidaun, West Java on July 24, 2013. Rescuers searched the seas off Indonesia's Java island on July 24 for possibly dozens of asylum-seekers missing after their Australia-bound boat sank, leaving at least three dead, with 157 saved, an official said. Local rescue officials estimated there could have been 'up to 200' passengers on the boat which was bound for Australia, while a survivor said some 250 had boarded the vessel. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

      Parties in 'race to bottom' on asylum

      It might be surprising that in a country as wealthy, multicultural and big as Australia, one of the key election battles is about asylum seekers, writes Jane McAdam.
    • An image taken on Ranjini and Ganesh's wedding day on April 8, 2012.

      Refugee seeks freedom in High Court

      A refugee and mother of three young boys who is being held in indefinite detention in Australia is taking her bid for freedom to the country's highest court.
    • Prime Minister Julia Gillard (R) listens as opposition leader Tony Abbott (L) sworn in in the House of Representatives chamber at Parliament House Canberra on Sept. 28, 2010 Canberra, Australia. The opening comes five weeks after the federal election resulted in a hung parliament and left the country waiting while Independent MPs deliberated to ultimately form a minority government.

      Has 'sexist' Abbott sunk 'gender war'?

      Tony Abbott is an unreconstructed male who loves sport, likes a beer and bravely tries to don the garb of man who cares about women, writes Amanda Wilson.
    • An Australian flag waves in the wind.

      Candidate quits after Islam gaffe

      A candidate in Australia's parliamentary elections referred to Islam as a country. As a result, she's now referred to as a former candidate.
    • Tony Abbott (left) and Kevin Rudd are due to face off in election scheduled for September 7

      Issue: Asylum, Internet, economy

      Australians go to the polls to vote on policies as diverse as how the country polices its borders and plans to connect every part of the vast continent to the Internet.
    •   This picture taken on September 26, 2012 shows workers on a scaffold at a construction site in Hefei, central China's Anhui province. China has approved a massive infrastructure package worth more than 158 billion USD, state media said on September 7, as the government seeks to boost the flagging economy.

      How political rivals view China

      The two leading political rivals offer contrasting views on China, the country that looms largest on Australia's economic and strategic horizon.
    • pkg kid photobombs politician australia _00000707.jpg

      Little boy photobombs PM Rudd

      A young boy in Australia makes some funny faces behind Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, and the photographs have gone viral.
    • Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd addresses the media after calling a general election in Canberra on August 4, 2013. Rudd on August 4 named September 7 as election day, hoping to complete a stunning political comeback by keeping the centre-left Labor Party in power three years after it ousted him.

      Rudd calls September 7 vote

      Australia's prime minister Kevin Rudd kicks off a five-week campaign as polls show his ruling Labor party has closed the gap.
    • Suspected asylum seekers arrive at Christmas Island, after receiving assistance by Australian Navy, on October 13, 2012.

      Why asylum plan won't work

      Rudd only needs the PNG Solution to "stop the boats" for a few weeks in order to somewhat cynically portray the initiative as an ingenious plan.
    • PERTH, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 13: Prime Minister Julia Gillard looks on during a visit to the worksite of Perth City Link at Perth Station on June 13, 2013 in Perth, Australia. The Prime Minister is in Perth for a range of engagements, meeting earlier today with former California governor and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and to visit the worksite of the Perth City Rail Link. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

      Gillard: Admired and vilified

      Prime Minister Julia Gillard was very much a leader under siege from within her own ranks when she called for a leadership ballot.