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

By James Grubel

CANBERRA, July 17 (BestGrowthStock) – 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.

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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 percent, 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 percent 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 percent 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 A$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.

(Editing by Ed Davies and Jonathan Thatcher)

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