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SYDNEY – Australian voters swept a conservative Liberal-National Party coalition government into power over the weekend. It was the result that News Corp newspapers had pushed for, but chairman Rupert Murdoch immediately aimed to distance himself from suggestions that his media company influenced the election result.
A 3.7 percent national swing saw Tony Abbott installed as the country’s new prime minister after a two-term Labor Party government that was marked by instability and three prime minister reigns – from Kevin Rudd to Julia Gillard and back to Rudd.
Meanwhile, Australians voted minor parties to seats in both the House of Representatives and the Senate in near record numbers. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange narrowly missed a Senate seat in his home state of Victoria, but vowed that his new Wikileaks Party would fight on.
The election campaign was marked by the most sustained criticism by News Corp Australia’s tabloid newspapers on a sitting prime minister here in nearly 40 years, led by Sydney’s Daily Telegraph and Brisbane’s Courier Mail, while Murdoch backed his papers in a series of tweets throughout August.
But it was Labor’s “incompetence” that lost the election, not his newspapers, such as the Telegraph – or Tele for short – Murdoch tweeted over the weekend. “Tele wot won it! No, Australians just sick of Gillard-Rudd incompetence and infighting wrecking great country,” the mogul said on Twitter.
And Australian voters may set a global trend away from left-leaning governments, he suggested. “Aust election public sick of public sector workers and phony welfare scroungers sucking life out of economy,” Murdoch tweeted. “Other nations to follow in time.”
While Murdoch endured a barrage of criticism, in the end his papers weren’t the only ones to back the conservatives. The Sydney Morning Herald, owned by News Corp rival Fairfax Media, ran a front page editorial on Friday backing Abbott with the headline “Australians Deserve A Government They Can Trust.” A Fairfax sibling publication, Melbourne’s The Age, however, backed Rudd.
Much attention focused on the fate of the Wikileaks party, especially given that Assange is still in hiding at the Ecuadorian embassy in London to evade extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges. Assange told Australian broadcaster ABC though that he was happy with the 1.19 percent of the vote his party received.
“I’m pleased,” he said. “The party was registered exactly three months ago, and we are the second-largest vote count for the new parties after [businessman] Clive Palmer‘s party, which had a billion bucks behind it. I think that’s a pretty good outcome.
Assange said he would make another Senate bid in three or six years’ time. “The Wikileaks Party will continue, for sure.,” he said. “It’s had a leader and primary candidate stuck in an overseas embassy for 400 days in a foreign country, nine hours’ time difference – and the international banking blockade against it – which even interfered with donations made.”
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