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Australia votes Aug. 21


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Australia votes Aug. 21

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CANBERRA – Australia’s first female prime minister Julia Gillard called elections yesterday buoyed by strong support only three weeks after taking power, but she faces a tough fight from conservatives on climate change, asylum seekers, and record-high  public debt.Gillard scheduled polls for August 21 after grabbing power in a surprise ruling Labour Party coup. She said the government had “lost its way” under her predecessor Kevin Rudd, and has attempted to steer new courses in key policy areas.“We would go into our second term with some lessons learnt,” Gillard told reporters at Parliament House. “We would be able to implement and deliver programmes differently than we have in the past.”Opinion polls point to Labour’s winning a second three-year term, but analysts expect a tight contest against a resurgent conservative opposition Liberal Party led by Tony Abbott.Gillard, a 48-year-old Welsh-born atheist, was once considered too far left to successfullywin over the political middle ground essential to an Australian election victory. Abbott, a 52-year-old former seminarian, was viewed as too far right.Both have shifted their parties’ directions but have not withdrawn support for major foreign policy issues, including Australia’s deployment of 1 550 troops to Afghanistan.Gillard broke a bitter deadlock between Rudd and major mining companies over a proposed 40 per cent tax on mineral profits, hammering out a deal on a compromise tax of 30 per cent. The tax is expected to raise AUS$10.5 billion (BDS$18.6 billion) in two years.Abbott, who in December became his Liberal Party’s third leader in two years, has vowed to oppose the tax.Gillard has attempted to stem a surge in asylum seekers trying to reach Australia by boat by asking its tiny neighbour East Timor to host a UN-endorsed regional refugee processing hub.Labour has condemned a Liberal plan to deter asylum seekers by introducing temporary protection visas, which would enable the government to send refugees back to their homelands if conditions there improved. (AP)

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