Australian Prime Minister John Howard is on course to win a fourth victory in the general election this Saturday. Most opinion polls indicate that the results will be close, but Howard is firming up as the favourite.
His opponent, Australian Labour Party (ALP) leader Mark Latham, needs to win 12 seats in the lower house of Parliament to gain government.
Howard has campaigned strongly on his government’s management of the Australian economy.
The Australian economy, which has been one of the best performers in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development over the past eight years with consistently strong growth of between 3% to 5%, low unemployment and low interest rates.
Howard’s campaign promises have focused on further tax relief for families, continued deregulation of the industrial relations system, and a Aus$2-billion childcare package.
Latham has also promised tax cuts, free childcare and a free health system for people over 75. More controversially he has proposed reducing government funding to wealthy private schools — a move attacked by Catholic and Anglican Church leaders.
But it’s over foreign and defence policy that Howard and Latham are most at odds. Howard has been one of President Bush’s staunchest allies in the Iraq war. The ALP opposed Australia’s participation in the war from the outset
If Latham’s ALP wins the election it is promising “robust support for the US alliance”, but not “automatic compliance with every aspect of US foreign policy”, according to Kevin Rudd, the party’s spokesman on Foreign Affairs.
Until this week Latham has out-campaigned Howard. In contrast to Howard’s defensive and sometimes listless performance, Latham’s energy has been attracting voters. But in the final week of this election campaign, Howard’s ‘steady as she goes’ approach appears to be appealing to the Australian electorate in contrast to Latham’s more exciting vision.