UPDATE 1-Australia govt holds poll lead as campaign gears up

* Election to take place Aug. 21

* Economy, asylum seekers emerge as key issues

* Govt has slim lead in latest opinion poll

* PM says election on “knife-edge”
(Adds Gillard quotes, details)

By Ed Davies

SYDNEY, July 18 (BestGrowthStock) – Australian Prime Minister Julia
Gillard is on course for a narrow win in an Aug. 21 election,
an opinion poll showed on Sunday, as the economy, border
protection and population swiftly emerged as key campaign
issues.

Support for the ruling Labor party has rebounded since
Gillard, Australia’s first female prime minister, was appointed
three weeks ago. Seeking to take advantage of her lead and a
robust economy creating jobs, she called an election on
Saturday.

But the poll is set to be tight with conservative
opposition leader Tony Abbott only needing nine more seats to
form a government with four independents, or 13 to take office
outright.

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“I genuinely believe this election is on a knife-edge,”
Gillard told reporters in Brisbane, adding jobs, the economy
and a return to budget surplus could be deciding factors.

A new opinion poll released on Sunday showed the Labor
government maintaining a slim lead over the opposition. The
Galaxy poll put Labor on 52 percent compared to 48 percent for
the conservative opposition.

But the survey showed that the government will have to
rely on support from Greens’ voters to ensure victory.

The opinion poll gave Gillard a strong 55 percent to 32
percent lead over Abbott as preferred prime minister.

Financial markets are not expected to react much to the
election given there is little to choose on core economic
policy.

Despite Labor steering the economy through the global
financial crisis and avoiding recession last year, opinion
polls show voters view the opposition as better economic
managers.

Abbott pledged that interest rates, which have risen six
times to 4.5 percent, would be lower if he came to power after
accusing the government of boosting debt and living costs.

ASYLUM SEEKERS, MINING TAX

He also accused the government of wasteful spending and
pledged to stop the flow of boatpeople heading to Australian
waters, a sensitive issue particularly in crowded city areas.

“I think people are right to be concerned about those who
arrive unsafely, without papers,” Abbott said on local TV,
claiming Australia had become “a soft touch” over boatpeople.

Gillard has proposed a possible East Timor regional asylum
processing centre to stop boatpeople arriving in Australia,
although Dili has given the plan a cool response. Abbott plans
to reopen Pacific island detention camps.

Last month, the asylum seeker issue saw the ruling Labor
party lose a key state by-election in western Sydney.

Gillard said the numbers arriving by boat were not large,
but “we shouldn’t label people as racist or intolerant or red
neck or some other word because they are concerned about
boats”.

In her first major campaign speech, Gillard rejected former
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s “big Australia” idea that could
have seen the nation’s population doubling from 22 million now.

“I don’t think we want to hurtle down the track to a
population of 36 million or 40 million,” said Gillard, who
replaced Rudd in a Labor party coup last month.

Abbott also sought to rekindle a debate over the
government’s watered down new mining tax, which he said would
give Australia’s mining sector the highest tax rate in the
world.

“You do not speed up the slow lane by slowing down the fast
lane,” he said, referring to talk of a two-speed Australia with
the resource-rich states of Western Australia and Queensland
benefiting more than others from high mineral prices.

Abbott has vowed to dump the tax, which the government has
said will raise A$10.5 billion ($9.12 billion) from 2012.

(Additional reporting by Michael Perry; Editing by Jeremy
Laurence)

UPDATE 1-Australia govt holds poll lead as campaign gears up