Australia's opposition blunders on internet policy on election eve

CANBERRA Thu Sep 5, 2013 11:41pm EDT

Australia's conservative opposition leader Tony Abbott speaks as he launches his party's election campaign in Brisbane August 25, 2013. REUTERS/Peter Barnes

Australia's conservative opposition leader Tony Abbott speaks as he launches his party's election campaign in Brisbane August 25, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Peter Barnes

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australia's conservative opposition was forced to make a quick about-turn on its internet policy to rule out more censorship on Friday, 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 opposition leader 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 which saw the Labor Party dump Kevin Rudd as prime minister in 2010, and then recall him in favor of Julia Gillard in late June.

But 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 smart phones 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 the CommSec stock broking firm. "There are good reasons to expect a stronger Australian economy once election uncertainty is resolved."

NEWSPAPERS BACK ABBOTT

Abbott's campaign has been strongly supported by media magnate Rupert Murdoch and his Australian newspapers, with most of the rival Fairfax Media newspapers on Friday 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.

Rudd used his final campaign news conference to urge as many as 400,000 undecided voters to back his party to protect jobs, health and education services.

"With 24 hours to go, if you have doubts about Mr Abbott's hidden massive cuts to your jobs, your schools, your hospitals, your childcare, your national broadband network, then don't vote for him," Rudd said.

(Editing by Robert Birsel)