SYDNEY - Australia's conservative leader Tony Abbott was headed for a landslide victory on Saturday as voters punished Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's Labor government for six years of turbulent rule and for failing to maximise a now fading mining boom.
Abbott, a former boxer, Rhodes scholar and trainee priest, promised to restore political stability, cut taxes and crack down on asylum seekers arriving by boat.
But it was frustration with Labor's leadership turmoil that cost the government.
Labor dumped Rudd in 2010, for Australia's first female prime minister Julia Gillard, only to reinstate him as leader in June 2013 in a desperate bid to stay in power.
"This was an election that was lost by the government more than one that was won by the opposition," former Labor prime minister Bob Hawke told Sky News, as voting closed in the New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and Tasmanian states.
A exit poll for the Nine television network found support for Abbott's Liberal-National Party coalition at 54.5 per cent, compared to 45.5 per cent for Labor.
That would give Abbott a majority of more than 40 seats in the 150-seat parliament, ending the country's first minority government since World War Two. Labor had relied upon independent and Greens support for the past three years.
Officials from Abbott's Liberal Party were confident of victory after a gruelling five week campaign.
"It's been a long campaign, but right now we are quietly confident that people have voted to turn things around and get the economy back on track," Liberal Party national director and Abbott's campaign director Brian Loughnane told Reuters.
The election has been pitched as a choice on who is best to lead the A$1.5 trillion ($1.4 trillion) economy as it adjusts to an end to a prolonged mining investment boom, fuelled by China's demand for its abundant natural resources.