Australian polls point to defeat for Howard


Sydney : Victory for Kevin Rudd’s Labor Party in next weekend’s general election would overturn a tradition in Australia that competent governments don’t get voted out, Prime Minister John Howard said Monday.

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Labor has been ahead in all the 100 opinion polls published since Rudd took over the party’s leadership in December, and he looks set to trounce Howard’s conservatives on Saturday, when 13 million voters go to the polls.

“Even people who hate us don’t think we’re incompetent,” Howard told reporters. “There is time available for me to remind people again of the strength of this economy, the lowest unemployment rate in 33 years, interest rates lower than at any time under the former government and low inflation.”

Howard, 68, has five days to win back the support of around 400,000 voters, who pollsters say have defected to Labor since the ruling coalition’s landslide victory in the 2004 general election.

Six interest rate hikes since Howard’s re-election in 2004 helps explain the disaffection with a government that has always campaigned on its better record of handling government finances.

There is also a palpable yearning for change after almost 12 years of having Howard in the top job.

Rudd, a 50-year-old former diplomat with a sunny disposition, looks set to bring on Howard’s retirement by adopting almost all his policies and then campaigning with the slogan that Australia needs “new leadership”.

Both parties are promising to uphold the fiscal policies that have underpinned 16 years of economic growth. Both promise massive tax cuts, and both are committed to repeated government surpluses.

The only significant difference is that Rudd would sign the Kyoto Protocol on climate change and withdraw Australia’s 590 combat troops in Iraq.

Howard, in tandem with the United States, has been a critic of Kyoto since it was negotiated in 1997 in Japan because it sets emissions-reduction targets for developed countries but not for developing economies.

Howard, who committed troops to the invasion of Iraq, argues that withdrawal would represent a breach of faith with the United States, its formal military partner, and give a psychological victory to terrorists.

Queensland University of Technology Professor Clive Bean said that about one in 10 voters would make up their minds on Election Day, and if two-thirds of them chose the coalition it could still pull out a surprise win.

“It sounds achievable, but if you consider that the rest of the country is voting 55-45 the other way, then it makes it a slightly taller order,” Bean said.