CANBERRA, Australia —
The Gillard vs. Rudd drama and the squabbling between their camps left many voters disillusioned. To some former Labor supporters, Abbott — once dubbed "unelectable" by a former boss — was seen as the lesser of two evils.
Abbott has vowed to scrap the carbon tax and instead introduce taxpayer-funded incentives for polluters to operate cleaner.
Polling booths opened at 8 a.m. Saturday in eastern Australia and were set to close 10 hours later, with western states voting another two hours beyond that due to time zones.
Abbott cast his vote Saturday morning at Sydney's Freshwater Surf Life Saving Club.
Abbott, a volunteer lifeguard, is often depicted by cartoonists wearing nothing but the red-and-yellow cap of an Australian lifeguard and Speedos. Men's swim briefs are known in Australia as "budgie smugglers" — a reference to the budgerigar, a small Australian parrot.
"I'm down here at Freshie Surf Club and you'll be pleased to see ... I'm in a suit, not in the budgie smugglers," Abbott told Nine Network television. "I sort of wish I was out there on the waves ... but Australia has a democratic duty to do today."
Abbott has long struggled to connect with women voters, with Gillard once calling him a misogynist and sexist in a fiery speech before Parliament. In a bid to improve his image, he introduced a paid maternity leave plan that would give mothers the taxpayer-funded equivalent of their salaries for six months. Yet the plan has proven divisive even within the Liberal Party, with some of Abbott's own allies dubbing it unaffordable.
Abbott and Rudd have also clashed over a tax on coal and iron ore mining companies. Abbott has promised to repeal the tax, which he blames in part for a downturn in the mining boom that kept Australia out of recession during the global economic crisis.