Sat, Sep 07, 2013 - Page 6 News List

Australian opposition in Web blunder

CRACKS APPEAR:The short-lived policy blunder, suggesting a UK-style compulsory Web filter for ‘adult content,’ could signal emerging divisions within the Liberal Party

Reuters, CANBERRA

Australia’s conservative opposition was forced to make a quick about-turn on its Internet policy to rule out more censorship yesterday, in a rare policy bungle on the eve of a general election it is poised to win.

Opinion polls are pointing to a solid victory for Australian Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott, ending six years of often turbulent Labor rule and the past three years of political uncertainty over a hung parliament.

Abbott has run a disciplined campaign, focusing on stability under his Liberal-National Party coalition in contrast to the infighting that saw the Labor Party dump Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2010 and then recall him in favor of former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard in late June.

However, the opposition’s short-lived policy blunder, suggesting a British-style compulsory filter for “adult content,” could also signal emerging divisions within Abbott’s Liberal Party between social conservatives and free-speech liberals.

“We made a mistake, we acknowledged the mistake, we corrected the mistake. It took about three minutes,” Abbott said in his final media conference of the election campaign.

“We do not support Internet filtering,” he added, saying his plan would allow people to choose to have filters on computers and smartphones if they wanted to block access to pornography.

The latest polls show Abbott’s conservatives set to win about 53 percent of the vote, which would give his coalition as many as 90 seats in the 150-seat parliament.

Economists believe a clear result for either party would boost business confidence at a time when the economy is adjusting to lower growth and rising unemployment as a prolonged mining investment boom tapers off.

“Removal of uncertainty is important for investors, businesses and consumers,” said Craig James, chief economist at CommSec. “There are good reasons to expect a stronger Australian economy once election uncertainty is resolved.”

Abbott’s campaign has been strongly supported by News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch and his Australian newspapers, with most of the rival Fairfax Media newspapers yesterday also calling for a change of government.

“A strong mandate at the top, especially for a government getting a grip on its own finances, will be welcome and will lift business confidence,” Fairfax’s Australian Financial Review said in its support for Abbott.

Murdoch’s top-selling Melbourne Herald Sun said Abbott “stands ready to seize the day,” while his the Australian national newspaper, which once employed Abbott as an editorial writer, said Abbott must be given a strong mandate.

“Tony Abbott presents as an authentic leader possessed of personal and political integrity,” the Australian said in an editorial.

Fairfax’s Melbourne Age stood out for its support of Rudd’s Labor.

“We believe the role of government is to build a strong, fair nation for future generations and not to pander to sectional interests. It is with these values in mind that we endorse the Labor Party in this important election,” the paper said.

Voting is compulsory and about 14 million Australians are expected to cast their ballots.

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