Abbott promises to focus on Asia
Updated: 2013-09-05 08:51
Australian opposition leader Tony Abbott shares a laugh with traders at the Sydney market at Flemington on Wednesday. The election campaign in Australia is at its peak ahead of Saturday's poll. Saeed Khan / Agence France-Presse
Australian election frontrunner Tony Abbott vowed on Wednesday that Asia will be his main foreign policy focus if he assumes office, as an influential media group turned on incumbent Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
The conservative Abbott, whose diplomatic credentials came under fire this week after he said the Syria conflict was "baddies versus baddies", is on track to win Saturday's poll.
His first travel priorities would be Indonesia, China, Japan and South Korea, he said in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, the flagship paper of Fairfax Media whose chairman on Wednesday declared his support for the conservative.
"Only after our regional and trading partners have been suitably attended to would I make the traditional trips to Washington and London," Abbott said, adding, "in the end your focus has got to be on the relationships that need the most attention.
"Decisions which impact our national interests will be made in Jakarta, in Beijing, in Tokyo, in Seoul, as much as they will be made in Washington.
"There's a sense in which we kind of know what the decisions in Washington or London will be. We can be less certain about decisions that might be made in Jakarta and Beijing."
Abbott said his first trip would be to Indonesia, where most boats bringing asylum-seekers to Australia - a key election issue - originate.
"By virtue of its size, proximity, its developing power, overall it's the most important country to Australia," he said.
Rudd, a former foreign minister, said the simplistic language trivialized the matter and demonstrated "that he is not competent and not comfortable with national security and foreign policy". Nonetheless it appears that Abbott is destined for high office with recent opinion polls putting his conservative coalition comfortably ahead of Labor.
Rudd's task of hanging onto power has been made harder by the dominant media group, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, running a campaign against him, and Fairfax, the other major player, appeared to join their rival on Wednesday.
In an interview with broadcaster ABC, Fairfax Chairman Roger Corbett accused Rudd, who ousted Julia Gillard in a party room coup in June, of destabilizing and damaging Labor.
"In my view, Kevin Rudd is a leader that has been really discredited by his own conduct," he said, adding that Abbott was "a very sincere, nice type of human being".