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Q+A-How Australia's election may play out

world Updated: Jul 17, 2010 10:34 IST

Reuters
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Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard called an election for August 21, with her Labor party holding a narrow lead in opinion polls and facing a tough poll campaign focusing on the economy, climate and asylym seekers.

Gillard and opposition leader Tony Abbott need at least 76 seats in the 150 seat lower parliament for a majority. Gillard could lose office if Labor loses nine seats.

The opposition needs to win 13 extra seats to govern. There are four independents.

Here are some questions and answers on the election.

WILL GILLARD WIN?

Probability: Likely.

Gillard goes into the election as favourite, but analysts point out that up to one in five voters only make up their minds in the final days before polling.

Australian voters also have a record of giving governments at least two terms.

The last government to lose after one term was in 1932.

But this poll is complicated by Labor's move last month to dump former prime minister Kevin Rudd in favour of Gillard.

The economy is set to be a major battleground.

Australia avoided recession during the global downturn, unemployment remains low at 5.1 per cent, and the government has forecast a return to a surplus budgets in three years.

Interest rates will also be an issue in a country where buying a house is a national obsession. Official rates have risen 150 basis points since last October to 4.5 per cent and most economists expect rates to rise further this year.

GILLARD'S PITFALLS?

Gillard is vulnerable on the issue of border control. The opposition has made significant gains in swing seats in major cities by promising to be tougher on asylum seekers arriving by boat.

Gillard has attempted to neutralise the issue, but her pledge to set up a refugee processing centre in East Timor has hit a hurdle, with Dili cool on the idea.

Gillard also has to be careful over climate policy. Former prime minister Rudd's decision to postpone his sweeping carbon trading scheme, was blamed for Labor's slump in the polls.

Gillard will need a policy that can woo voters back from the Greens, but without losing support to the opposition which opposes an emissions trading scheme.

Rudd also poses a potential headache for Gillard. Gillard moved against Rudd in late June and she has been accused in media reports of backing out of a deal to give him more time to lift Labor's support.

Rudd wants a senior job after the election, but anything he does and says could become an election distraction for Gillard.

Gillard also needs to hold onto swing seats in Rudd's home state of Queensland, where anger remains over the way Rudd was dumped as prime minister.

CAN ABBOTT WIN?

Probability: Possible, but less likely.

Abbott has revived the conservative opposition since he took over the leadership in December 2009. However, he has struggled to win over swing voters, who appeared to abandon Labor under Rudd and shift their support instead to the Greens.

However, Abbott could make ground in the key resource states of Queensland and Western Australia, where voters remain wary about the government's proposed 30 per cent mining tax.

Abbott will also attack the government's over its economic credibility and ability to manage the economy, and has already made ground by highlighting waste and mismanagement in programmes in more than $50 billion of economic stimulus measures.

ABBOTT'S PITFALLS

Abbott is a super-fit politician who once trained to be a Catholic priest. He is known for his combative and blunt-speaking style, which has sometimes got him into trouble.

As a senior minister in the 2007 election, Abbott created damaging headlines when he criticised a terminally-ill man who was fighting for justice for people exposed to asbestos.

More recently, Abbott admitted he doesn't always say what he really means, and not everything he says should be considered as "the Gospel truth".

Abbott is a former workplace minister, and Gillard is likely to mount a strong scare campaign accusing Abbott of wanting to re-introduce unpopular workplace laws if he wins office.

Abbott on Saturday attempted to neutralise the issue, promising not to re-introduce the workplace laws in the next three years if he wins power.

COULD AUSTRALIA HAVE A HUNG PARLIAMENT?

Probability: Possible.

If the polls remain close, Australia could have a hung parliament for the first time since World War II.

At least three independents are likely to be re-elected. They all come from rural electorates, and have promised to work together before deciding which side they would support to form a government.

All want stronger policies for people in rural areas.