Australian contenders ready for election debate

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SYDNEY: Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was on Sunday expected to focus on the economy in the much-anticipated first debate of Australia’s election campaign, as another poll brought bad news for his government.

Rudd, who retook the Labor Party leadership in June, has repeatedly said he is the underdog in the September 7 national poll against conservative opposition leader Tony Abbott.

The pair go head-to-head in an hour-long televised debate in the national capital Canberra at 8:30 a.m. local time on Sunday after a full week of campaigning which has seen them criss-cross the country seeking votes.

The latest Galaxy poll, published in The Sunday Telegraph, showed that while it remained a tight race, Labor’s primary vote fell from 40 percent to 38 percent while Abbott’s Liberal/National coalition rose from 44 percent to 45 percent.

In a two-party race between Labor and the conservative coalition, the government was trailing 49 percent to 51 percent, according to the poll of 1,002 voters taken at the end of last week.

“This election is very close,” Rudd’s colleague Treasurer Chris Bowen told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. on Sunday.

“It’s very tight, we’re the underdogs. But this election will be decided on the big picture, on who has the best economic plans for the future, who has the most positive plans for dealing with the challenges and transitions in the economy.”

Abbott, who earlier on Sunday took part in the 14-kilometer (8.7 mile) City2Surf fun run from Sydney’s Hyde Park to Bondi Beach, said he was looking forward to the National Press Club debate.

“I’m looking forward to it because it’s both of our chances to present directly to the Australian people what are our positive plans for the future,” Abbott told the Nine Network ahead of the race in which he guided a visually impaired runner.

Australia’s election comes as the decade-long resources boom is beginning to unwind, with the central bank this week scaling back its near-term forecasts for economic growth.

AFP

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