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Australian PM Calls for General Elections - 2001-10-05


Australian Prime Minister John Howard has called for a general election, in hopes of riding a new-found wave of popularity for his coalition government. The five-week campaign is expected to focus heavily on terrorism and immigration issues, as well as domestic concerns such as health care and education.

Prime Minister John Howard told reporters in Canberra he is committed to winning the general election, now set for November 10th. He stressed it is imperative that the country not change leaders as Australia joins the international fight against terrorism.

Mr. Howard is seeking a third term for his ruling conservative coalition of Liberal and National parties.

The decision to hold elections soon comes as the government enjoys as much as a 15-point lead in the latest opinion polls. It is a remarkable reversal of fortunes for a coalition that was trailing in popularity in recent weeks.

Until last month, the opposition Labor Party under Kim Beazley was strongly tipped to win any election, but the polls have swung back to the government after its strong stance against asylum seekers and terrorism.

Mr. Howard told ABC Radio his government is the only team capable of guiding Australia through the international challenges it faces. "Above all the nation needs at the helm a group of men and women who have strength, who have experience and have a clear view of what they believe in," Howard said.

The Labor Party is also campaigning on the theme of "security at home and abroad." On the issues of asylum seekers and counter-terrorism, Labor's policies are almost identical to the government's.

But the opposition hopes to appeal to voters on crucial domestic issues - such the economy, education and health care - areas where the government's policies are far less popular.

It also hopes to benefit from a strong electoral backlash against the government's goods and services tax introduced in July last year. Labor's leader, Kim Beazley, says the government has weakened the economy and depleted its budget. "This election campaign is about jobs, job security, health education, taking the pressure off families affected by the gst (new taxes)."

Mr. Howard, 62, has previously indicated he would consider retiring within two years, but now won't confirm or deny plans to leave political life for good.

The Labor Party needs to take only six more seats from the coalition to win.

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