Aussie Election Starts; Opposition Tipped To Win

By ROD McGUIRK

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) â¿¿ A new government prepared to take control of Australia on Sunday, with policies to cut pledges in foreign aid and to wind back greenhouse gas reduction measures in an effort to balance the nation's books.

Prime Minister-elect Tony Abbott also plans to visit Indonesia soon in part to discuss controversial plans to curb the number of asylum seekers reaching Australian shores in Indonesian fishing boats.

Abbott's conservative Liberal party-led coalition won a crushing victory at elections Saturday against the center-left Labor Party, which had ruled for six years, including during the turbulent global financial crisis.

The Australian Electoral Commission's latest counting early Sunday had the coalition likely to win a clear majority of 88 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives. Labor appeared likely to secure 57.

Abbott, a supremely fit 55-year-old, began his first day as prime minister-elect with an early morning bicycle ride from his Sydney home with friends.

"It was a very big night, but this is just the start of another normal day and there's going to be a fair bit of solid work this morning," Abbott told reporters. "There's a lot of work that will be done later today."

The coalition announced last week that if elected it would plan to save 4.5 billion Australian dollars ($4.1 billion) over the next four years by reducing increases in its aid spending to the Australian inflation rate, which is currently less than 3 percent.

The outgoing Labor government said in May that Australia's long-standing pledge to increase its foreign aid spending to 0.5 percent of gross national income by 2015-16 would be postponed by two years.

The coalition said in a statement last week that it shared Labor's commitment to reach the 0.5 percent target "over time, but cannot commit to a date given the current state of the federal budget."

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