SYDNEY – Australian election frontrunner Tony Abbott on Wednesday said Asia will be his top foreign policy priority if he wins office as the influential Fairfax Media 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, rather than Australia's traditional and long-standing allies the United States and Britain.
"Only after our regional and trading partners have been suitably attended to would I make the traditional trips to Washington and London," he said, adding that "in the end your focus has got to be on the relationships that need the most attention."
"Decisions which impact on 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.
"By virtue of its size, proximity, its developing power, overall it's the most important country to Australia," he said.
Abbott's foreign policy credentials have been criticised during the election campaign, culminating this week when he said the escalating Syria conflict "is not goodies versus baddies, it is baddies versus baddies."
Rudd, a former foreign minister, said the simplistic language trivialised the matter and demonstrated "that he is not competent and not comfortable with national security and foreign policy."
Competent or not, 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 the other major player Fairfax Media 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 destabilising and damaging Labor. AFP