Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called a Sept. 7 general election yesterday, barely six weeks after he toppled former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard in a party-room vote, ending a turbulent three years in power for the minority Labor government.
Rudd, who was dumped by his center-left party in June 2010, has generated a spike in public support since he returned, but conservative opposition leader Tony Abbott is still favorite to win power.
Rudd’s Labor government could fall with the loss of just one of the 150 seats in parliament. His government currently holds 71 seats, the opposition 72, with one Green and six independent cross benchers.
Abbott’s opposition has promised to scrap an unpopular 30 percent tax on coal and iron ore mine profits, as well as a A$24.15 per tonne (US$21.49 per tonne) carbon tax, if he wins power.
Rudd returned as prime minister on June 26 after he toppled Gillard, with a third of Gillard’s Cabinet also stepping down.
His party has been in power since late 2007 and helped Australia’s economy avoid recession following the 2008 global financial crisis, aided by a prolonged mining boom fueled by resources demand from China and India.
However, a budget update on Friday showed Australia’s economic growth is slowing as the mining investment boom ends, with unemployment rising and the manufacturing sector in particular shedding jobs.
AMP Capital Investors chief economist Shane Oliver said the election campaign could usher in a quieter period in the economy because Australians usually restrain spending during elections.
“It would be good for confidence to see an end to minority government and to get the election out of the way,” Oliver said, adding a victory for the pro-business opposition parties could also boost business confidence.
Rudd announced the election date in an e-mail to his supporters, telling them “it’s on,” after visiting Australian Governor-General Quentin Bryce, who is the country’s head of state, to dissolve the current parliament.
“We’ve got one hell of a fight on our hands,” Rudd said.
The latest polls show Rudd has lifted Labor’s support to give the government a chance of victory, although the respected Newspoll late last month still had Rudd’s Labor Party trailing the opposition by 4 percentage points, 48 percent to 52 percent.
Analyst Nick Economou said polls have not swung back to Rudd enough to put Labor in a winning position, particularly in marginal seats in the outer suburbs of Australia’s major cities.
“Rudd has undertaken a risky strategy. The polls indicate that Labor has achieved the recovery of previously strong Labor voters, but I’m not sure that Labor’s message is resonating in key marginal seats,” Monash University’s Economou said. “I can’t see that he can win.”
Online bookmaker Sportsbet.com, which takes bets in each of the 150 electorates, said current projections had Rudd winning 65 seats and Abbott’s conservatives 82.
Gillard introduced the price on carbon and the mining tax, and strengthened Australia’s defense ties with the US, although her government was hamstrung by a lack of a parliamentary majority and party infighting.
Abbott has built a strong lead in opinion polls with his campaign to abolish the carbon tax, which he has blamed for pushing up electricity prices and for job losses.
He has also won support for his strong stance against asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat, with refugee policy set to play a leading role in the election.
Since returning to office, Rudd has announced Australia’s toughest measures to deter asylum seekers, announcing anyone who arrives by boat will be sent to either Papua New Guinea or Nauru in the Pacific for processing and resettlement.