OPPOSITION Leader Tony Abbott has kicked off his campaign to become Prime Minister of Australia with an appeal to the country’s Islamic community, declaring himself to be a “sworn enemy” of the people that sought to divide the community along racial or cultural lines.
Mr Abbott was speaking to a gathering of around 500 Muslims in western Sydney that marked both the end of Ramadan and the beginning of the final month of federal election campaigning. The Opposition Leader, a staunch Catholic, told the gathering that multicultural Australia was a “beacon of hope to a troubled and divided world” and that cultural integration was essential to the success of the Australian economy.
Mr Abbott said: “I am the sworn enemy for anyone who seeks to divide Australian over Australian on issues of class, gender, birth place, race and particularly over faith. I believe that all religious faiths seek to come to grips with the complexity of human condition. We have to respect the specialness of that faith to every person.”
The Opposition Leader’s direct appeal to the Islamic community comes only three months after the Liberal Party were accused of boycotting the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils annual gala, which also took place in western Sydney. The accusations of a boycott came after both Mr Abbott and New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell did not attend the gala, while the Labor Party sent eight high-profile representatives to the event.
Mr Abbott’s office claimed that he had not received an invitation to the function, while the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils remained adamant that an invitation had been sent. They suggested that the Liberal Party were boycotting the function due to its being held at Malek Fahd School, which had been denied state government funding under suspicion that it was channelling government funds to the Muslim lobby group.
Mr Abbott’s speech to Muslims in western Sydney on the first official day of campaigning in the 2013 federal election signals the continued importance placed on the region by the Liberal Party. The Opposition Leader also used his first campaign day to visit inner-city Brisbane, with Queensland being seen as a critical state to win in order to ensure victory over a government led by Brisbane local Kevin Rudd.
Although previous Prime Minister Julia Gillard had settled on a 14 September date for the federal election, Mr Rudd yesterday used his position as Prime Minister to bring the poll date forward by one week to 7 September. Both major parties had previously indicated the importance of winning over western Sydney voters, with both Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott holding a series of pre-campaign events in the region earlier this year.