By Hilary Whiteman
(CNN) -- The winner of Australia's election, Tony Abbott, on Saturday pledged to form a competent and trustworthy government after he defeated Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
"I can inform you that the government of Australia has changed," the conservative challenger told supporters. "For just the seventh time in 60 years the government of Australia has changed.
"I now look forward to forming a government that is competent, that is trustworthy, and which purposely and steadfastly and methodically sets about delivering on our commitments to you, the Australian people."
Although final results had yet to come in, Rudd said he had telephoned Abbott to concede defeat. "As prime minister of Australia, I wish him well in the high office of prime minister of this country," he said at a party meeting in Brisbane.
Rudd was conciliatory in his speech and accepted his share of blame. "Tonight is the time to unite in the great Australian nation," he said. "Because whatever our politics may be, we are all first and foremost Australian."
"I know that Labor hearts are heavy across the nation tonight. And as your prime minister and as your parliamentary leader of the great Australian Labor party, I accept responsibility. I gave it my all, but it was not enough for us to win. I'm proud that despite all the profits of doom, that we have preserved our federal parliamentary labor party as a viable fighting force for the future."
According to a Sky News/Newspoll survey, Abbott, leader of the Liberal party, is set to win a large majority, ending Labor's six years in power under Rudd and Julia Gillard who deposed each other in successive leadership challenges.
Before the vote, commentators said the Australian electorate had tired of the revolving door of Labor leaders, and were looking for change. "Rudd's had his turn," one voter told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
Back in June, Rudd's Labor colleagues had hoped he'd bring the same magic to the polls demonstrated in 2007 when he defeated the former Liberal leader John Howard.
However, the early lift Rudd brought to the election race quickly faded, and in the final days of the campaign the Labor leader was vowing he'd fight to the end.
Rudd kept a low profile on election day, prompting speculation about when he would turn up to vote.
When he finally arrived at a polling station in Brisbane, hecklers shouted slogans slamming the government's plan to send asylum seekers for offshore processing.
"Hey Kevin we're talking to you, not PNG, not Nauru," they shouted.
What about Syria?
The focus of this election was very much on domestic issues, including the economy, education and broadband Internet services. The international quandary over the scale of any military response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria seems to have been set aside, for now.
Abbott has indicated that, as Australian prime minister, he'd take a cautious approach to any involvement in foreign conflicts. He attracted criticism, mostly from Rudd, when he referred to the conflict in Syria as "baddies versus baddies."
Rudd has called the Syria conflict "the world's greatest political crisis and unfolding humanitarian disaster" though he's not said whether a Labor government would back military intervention.
It's the economy...
In the final days of the campaign, Rudd tried to win over voters with the promise of more jobs, painting Abbott's planned budget cuts as a sure way to send the economy into recession.
In a bid to emphasize his government's economic credentials, Rudd seized upon the latest GDP figures released earlier this week showing an annual growth rate of 2.6%.
"As of this year, since we came to office in 2007, the Australian economy is 15% bigger than it was," Rudd said. "I draw to your attention the fact that the British economy has shrunk 3% over that time."
Under Abbott, the government would find billions of dollars in budget cuts, including slashing $4.5 billion (US$4.1 billion) from foreign aid over the next six years. Money saved would be spent on infrastructure projects including motorway upgrades, in a decision slammed by aid groups.
"We are a strong OECD country, yet we are fast becoming the least generous when it comes to reducing global poverty," said Norman Gillespie, the CEO of UNICEF Australia.
Paired with Abbott's budget cuts is a generous maternity plan pitched to female voters despite opposition from big business and from within his own party. Mothers would be given up to $75,000 (US$68,490) for six months' maternity leave at a total cost of $5.5 billion (US$5.01 billion) each year.
An end to infighting?
Away from the budget, Abbott has promised a "no surprises, no excuses government," a reference to the political divisions that have split the Labor Party in recent years.
Abbott has had a powerful ally in his bid for election. Media mogul Rupert Murdoch has made no secret of wanting the Labor government out.
On May 19, when Gillard was still in power, Murdoch tweeted: "Oz polls show nothing can save this miserable govt. Election can not come soon enough. People decided and tuned out months ago."
Rudd has accused Murdoch-owned newspapers of attacking Labor for the magnate's own commercial gain. After Rudd announced the election date, the Murdoch-owned Daily Telegraph ran the headline: "KICK THIS MOB OUT." In another edition, the Labor leader was shown on the front cover of a tabloid newspaper wearing a Nazi uniform.
Commentators said Murdoch's Foxtel network would face greater competition from Labor's plans to roll out a faster National Broadband Network.
Other key issues, alternatives
Aside from business, the two main candidates are separated by their views on same-sex marriage. Rudd is firmly for it, Abbott, a former Catholic seminarian, insists that marriage should be between a man and a woman.
However they're much closer on the issue of asylum seekers. Both main parties advocate sending people who arrive by boat to offshore processing centers where most, if not all, will be potentially resettled if found to be refugees.
There were other options for Australian voters. The Greens Party is the strongest of a number of smaller parties outside the two top. And then there were the newer upstarts; groups fronted by recognizable names who were vying for a Senate seat.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange conducted a long-distance election campaign from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he's been holed-up for fear of arrest and extradition. However, in recent weeks, his new WikiLeaks Party has been hit by a number of resignations, weakening its stance.
And Clive Palmer, the mining magnate perhaps best known outside Australia for his plans to build a replica of the Titanic, was also seeking votes for a place in the Senate on behalf of his Palmer United Party.
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