Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has called an election for September 7. The Rudd government faces tough competition from conservative opposition leader Tony Abbott. The campaign is likely to be dominated by concerns about the economy, asylum seekers and climate change.
It’s six weeks since Rudd ousted Australia's first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, in a Labor party coup in Canberra. Since then, support for the governing Labor Party has risen, prompting Rudd to call an election for early September.
It promises to be a bruising few weeks of campaigning. While concerns about immigration and the environment will be influential, this is an election that will likely be dominated by jobs and the cost of living.
Prime Minister Rudd said he’s the man to help Australia adapt to the end of a mining boom fueled by demand from China.
“This election will be about who the Australian people trust to best lead them through the difficult new economic challenges which now lie ahead, Rudd said during a speech, "new challenges brought about by the end of the China resources boom, new challenges that also have to be confronted. The boom, of course, has fueled so much of our nation's wealth, that boom is over.”
Labor will be fighting to stay in office after six turbulent years, dominated by leadership struggles and debate over its handling of the sensitive issues of asylum seekers, climate change, and the global financial crisis.
To appeal to voters’ concerns about immigration, the government says all asylum seekers arriving by boat will have no chance of being resettled in Australia but will instead be sent for processing in neighboring Papua New Guinea. The conservative opposition says it will bring in the military to stop a steady flow of unauthorized arrivals coming to Australia by sea.
Opposition leader Tony Abbott also says he would immediately repeal an unpopular tax on the country’s biggest polluters, which he blames for pushing up domestic power bills.
“Today I've written to the head of the Department of Prime Minister in Cabinet to say that the first act of an incoming coalition government, should we win the election, will be to prepare the carbon tax repeal legislation," Abbott said. " And this will be the first item of business considered by an incoming parliament, it will be the first piece of legislation considered by a new parliament, should there be a change of government.”
Recent opinion polls show the election race is likely to be close, although pundits, including the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Antony Green, expect the conservatives to win when voters have their say on September 7.
“I think Labor would be the underdog, they are the incumbent, they've had a rocky couple of years," Green said. "The Opposition has had some very strong lines to use against them over the last few years, and given the opinion polls you would have to say Labor is behind.”
Voting in Australia is compulsory. Officials estimate there are about half a million 18 to 24 year old Australians missing from the electoral roll, suggesting widespread apathy among the young towards the current political discourse.