Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bookmakers declare Australian election over and won

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BRISBANE -- The Australian election due in eight days already has a winner according to the most important umpire on Australian political fortunes -- the bookmakers.

At Sportsbet, which takes bets on political contests, they are paying out punters who placed bets on a victory by the Coalition -- the banner under which right-of-centre politicians have campaigned since 1922.

Sportsbet figures Coalition leader Tony Abbott, who leads the Liberal party and the Opposition in Parliament, is so far ahead of his rival, Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, they might as well get the pain over with.

And so happy punters have pocketed about $1.5 million and the former trainee Catholic priest Tony Abbott, once dismissed by opponents as the "Mad Monk," can expect to be installed as Australia's 29th prime minister next weekend.

The election went from a two-horse race when the starting gun was fired four weeks ago to a foregone conclusion somewhere in the second week.

A Sportsbet spokesman earlier this week likened the coalition led by Abbott to one of Australia's most famous racehorses -- Black Caviar.

Anyone wanting to bet on the recently retired champion in the later stages of her career was getting about five cents for each dollar wagered.

And so it is with Abbott and his team who might give you as little as three cents on the dollar -- "un-backable odds" in horse racing parlance.

The only unknown variable in the election equation is how the minor parties will perform.

The Greens' fortunes are fading but the party will still play a role, while two fledgling political outfits led by Independent Federal MP Bob Katter and mining billionaire Clive Palmer may pick up one or two seats in the 150-seat lower house as well as a senate spot.

But for Rudd, the former diplomat who charmed the Chinese with his command of their language, and who promised to usher in a new political age after his hugely successful 2007 "Kevin 07" campaign, a career change is on the horizon.

Rudd still has a tremendous capacity to communicate with the Australian public one-on-one. Only last week he was mobbed by school kids who still see him as a Facebook celebrity.

But while Rudd may have steered the nation through the 2008 financial crisis, adults who vote appear deeply disenchanted with the resulting deficit after years of financial fat fuelled by the mining boom.

A failure in border protection, which has resulted in boatloads of asylum seekers arriving, and a lingering bitterness about his failure to confront global warming after labelling it "the greatest moral challenge'' of our time, has both the right and left of the political spectrum abandoning Rudd.

As for Abbott, his legendary physical stamina on bike rides and road runs appears to have infiltrated his political persona. Where not long ago he was described as "unelectable" by a close political colleague, he now appears to have emerged as a politician of conviction.

It's clear his devotion to classic liberalism -- small government and limited intervention in the lives of both ordinary people and the free market -- will result in cuts to public services including thousands of jobs.

But the nation appears to accept such steps as necessary evils as it attempts to put behind it the three years of minority Labor government, held together by a thin margin provided by independents.

Abbott caught the ear of much of the nation early in the campaign when he declared he would not take power by accepting the support of independents.

Australia was tired of division and dysfunction, he said.

"I am saying that I won't be doing deals with independents and minor parties," Abbott said.

"And if there is a hung parliament, there won't be a coalition government led by Tony Abbott."

It appears that's one promise the prime minister-in-waiting will have no trouble keeping.

 

Michael Madigan is the Winnipeg Free Press correspondent in Australia. He writes mostly about politics for the Brisbane-based Courier Mail.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 30, 2013 A9

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