Australia PM frontrunner Abbott under fire over Syria comments

Opposition leader Tony Abbott talks during the People's Forum with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in Sydney on Aug 28, 2013. The conservative frontrunner to become Australia's next prime minister came under fire on Sunday after describing the c
Opposition leader Tony Abbott talks during the People's Forum with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in Sydney on Aug 28, 2013. The conservative frontrunner to become Australia's next prime minister came under fire on Sunday after describing the conflict in Syria as "baddies versus baddies", renewing criticism of his diplomatic credentials. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (AFP) - The conservative frontrunner to become Australia's next prime minister came under fire on Sunday after describing the conflict in Syria as "baddies versus baddies", renewing criticism of his diplomatic credentials.

Mr Tony Abbott, currently on track to win Australia's Sept 7 elections over centre-left Labor incumbent Kevin Rudd, described the conflict in Syria as a civil war "between two pretty unsavoury sides".

"It is not goodies versus baddies, it is baddies versus baddies and that is why it is very important that we don't make a very difficult situation worse," Mr Abbott told ABC television on Sunday morning.

The remarks came as Australia prepared to assume the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council, and Mr Abbott's political opponents seized upon them as evidence he was not ready for the international stage.

"Can you imagine him at the G20? 'Barack, it's baddies versus baddies'," said Labor Senator Penny Wong.

"I've yet to see a leader of a federal political party wanting to be PM who would be this embarrassing when it comes to foreign policy."

The Labor campaign said it "speaks volumes about Mr Abbott's foreign policy capacity" and "summed up in a sentence why he is not fit to represent Australia in any international forum".

"Having Mr Abbott represent Australia at the G20, the White House or the United Nations is akin to sending Milli Vanilli to perform at the Royal Albert Hall," a campaign release said, referring to the 80s rap/pop group.

Mr Rudd, a Mandarin-speaking former diplomat and foreign minister who championed Australia gaining a place on the security council, questioned Mr Abbott's ability to handle complex international crises last week, describing him as "an exceptionally aggressive and negative politician".

"I really do question, having known Mr Abbott for a long, long time, if he really has the temperament for that sort of thing," he said.

"You've got to sit back, think calmly, reflect and then work through what the best decision is. And temperament, judgement and experience are quite important.

"He doesn't have a background in this field."

Opinion polls have consistently put Mr Abbott ahead of Mr Rudd but both sides are predicting a close finish heading into the final week of the campaign.

Mr Rudd is due to rally the party faithful at Labor's major campaign event later Sunday.