UPDATE 7-Australian PM calls election, battle lines drawn

* Focus on economy, climate, border protection

* PM Gillard has narrow lead in opinion polls

* Financial markets’ main concern is hung parliament
(Adds PM on asylum seekers, analyst, betting odds, details)

By Michael Perry

CANBERRA, July 17 (BestGrowthStock) – Australian Prime Minister
Julia Gillard called an election on Saturday for Aug. 21, with
the tightly-fought poll to be decided over policies on economic
management, climate and border protection.

Australia’s first female prime minister was appointed three
weeks ago by the ruling Labor party as the government faced
electoral defeat. Since then Gillard has resurrected support,
putting Labor narrowly ahead in opinion polls. But conservative
opposition leader Tony Abbott needs to win only nine seats to
form a government with four independents, or 13 seats to take
office outright.

“Today I seek a mandate from the Australian people to move
Australia forward,” Gillard told a news conference.

“Moving forward means moving forward with budget surpluses
and a stronger economy,” said Gillard, who toppled leader Kevin
Rudd in a party coup on June 24.

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

“The main concern for financial markets is an inconclusive
election result like a hung parliament,” said Craig James,
chief economist at CommSec.

Online betting sites made Labor a clear favourite, although
some analysts tipped it to be a tight race.

Gillard said her re-election platform would focus on
creating jobs, boosting education, improving health care,
fighting climate change and strengthening border protection.

Australia’s robust economy will be key to the 2010
election.

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.

Both the government and opposition have vowed to return to
a budget surplus.

Yet, voters will be given stark choices:

* Gillard plans a 30 percent mining tax, raising A$10.5
billion ($9.12 billion) from 2012. Abbott plans to dump it.

* Gillard believes a carbon price to fight climate change
is inevitable, with a emissions trading scheme possibly brought
in after 2012-13. Abbott does not.

* Gillard has proposed a possible East Timor regional
asylum processing centre to stop boatpeople arriving in
Australia, although she said in an interview with Sky TV there
was “no quick fix”. Abbott plans to reopen Pacific island
detention camps.

“Under Labor we will be moving forward to more debt, more
taxes, more spending and more boats — that’s why Labor needs
to move out for our country to move on,” Abbott told a news
conference in Brisbane.

Abbott also saw jobs as a focus for the election, saying
conservative parties would abandon a policy of tough labour
laws, conceding it lost them power in 2007.

CLIMATE POLICY KEY TO ELECTION

Labor has lost Green voter support in the past year over
its failure to introduce a carbon trading scheme to tackle
climate change, and needs to woo them back to hold government.

Australia is one of the world’s top per-capita emitters of
planet-warming carbon pollution.

The government and opposition have pledged to cut carbon
emissions by 5 percent by 2020, but business has warned a lack
of a clear climate policy is hindering power sector investment.

The small Greens party is set to control the upper house
Senate and will push the next government to introduce a carbon
price in return for support on other legislation.

Voters will have to choose between two contrasting
personalities in Abbott and Gillard.

Abbott is a pugnacious and socially conservative Catholic,
who once trained for the priesthood, and is opposed to same sex
marriages and abortions.

Gillard in contrast does not believe in God, is unmarried
but has a long-time partner, and is childless.

David Briggs of pollster Galaxy Research said the focus of
the election will be leadership, in particular the performance
of Gillard. “It is about Julia Gillard and it is the election
for Labor to lose,” he said.
(Editing by Ed Davies, editing by Jonathan Thatcher)

UPDATE 7-Australian PM calls election, battle lines drawn