The head of Australia’s opposition said Monday that he will seek to improve ties with Israel, as his conservative bloc geared up for a national election next month.
Liberal party leader Tony Abbott told reporters Monday that the last two governments had not maintained Australia’s strong relationship with the Jewish state, a fact he would attempt to fix, according to the Australian Associated Press.
“There’s been a bit of wobbling under the current government but I would expect our standard rock-solid friendship with Israel to resume should the coalition win the election,” he said, referring to the bloc of opposition parties seeking to unseat current Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
Australia has historically been considered one of Israel’s strongest allies. However, a decision to abstain, and not vote against, a Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations last year led some to accuse Canberra of abandoning the Jewish state.
Jewish groups in the country asked for a sit down with then prime minister Julia Gillard at the time and the Israeli Embassy was also reportedly angered by the move.
The relationship between the two states also took a hit in the wake of the “Prisoner X” affair, in which Israel was found to have held Australian-Israeli Mossad spy Ben Zygier in secret before he killed himself in prison. Australian officials demanded an explanation from Jerusalem and security ties between the two countries reportedly ground to a halt.
Abbott is considered a strong favorite to become prime minister after elections on September 7. His conservative coalition launched its official campaign Sunday, and on Tuesday, Abbott is expected to release his platform for the Middle East-related issues.
According to News Corp. the platform will include an unfriendly stance toward the Boycott Divestment Sanctions campaign aimed at Israel. His government will also take a harder line toward terror suspects and crack down on extremists seeking to enter Australia, while making it easier for Israelis to receive entry visas.
“I’m a friend of Israel — always have been, always will be,” he said.
In July, Abbott stumped for a group of Jewish business leaders in Melbourne, praising the community for its acumen.
“Jewish people have succeeded because they’ve never taken anything for granted. Better products, new services, more effective salesmanship, and above everything, relentless curiosity have been the hallmarks of Jewish people in Australia, especially business people, and we have not held their success against them, but honored them for it,” he said, according to the Australian Jewish News.
Abbott’s coalition has consistently out-performed the ruling party in public opinion polls for more than two years, despite Abbott’s low personal approval rating.
The 55-year-old former Roman Catholic seminarian and Rhodes scholar has mostly focused his campaign on economic issues, promising to repeal taxes.
According to leaked diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks in 2009, former US ambassador Robert McCallum reported to Washington that Abbott was a “polarizing right-winger’” with a “propensity for insensitivity and controversy.”
Rudd’s predecessor Julia Gillard, Australia’s first woman prime minister, was applauded by feminists around world for a speech she gave to parliament a year ago in which she branded Abbott a misogynist for a string of allegedly sexist comments.
A poll by market researcher Nielsen published in Fairfax Media newspapers on Saturday found the coalition was leading Labor 53 percent to 47 percent.
It was based on a random national telephone survey of 2,545 voters over four days last week. It had a 3 percentage point margin of error.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.