The Australian embassy bombing in Jakarta has cast a dark shadow over Australia's election campaign.
National security is fast becoming a key issue, a shift from the domestic concerns that had been dominating campaigning for the 9 October general election.
Australians - made nervous by the Bali bombings two years ago - may now feel
increasingly under siege.
The Jakarta blast is a fresh reminder of the terrorism threat
In such uncertain times, they could well turn again to the safe hands of Prime Minister John Howard, who has been in office since 1996.
The veteran leader's pitch to voters has zeroed in on smart economics
coupled with a calm and decisive hand in matters of security.
"Everything about the future depends on us maintaining a strong stand against
terrorism," Mr Howard said recently.
"Unless we have a strong economy and we're
strong on national security, nothing else can be achieved."
Differences over Iraq
Security is an area where the Howard government would be expected to
dominate the Labor opposition under its new leader Mark Latham.
After all, voters may ask themselves why should they take a gamble on a relatively inexperienced figure at such sensitive times.
On the other hand, those who believe that government policies have made their country
more vulnerable could decide to punish the prime minister at the polls.
Mr Latham insists that Australia's involvement in Iraq has increased the
"So many experts have pointed out that it has made Australia a larger target," he said. "It's made us less safe in the war against terror."
The opposition plans to harness the widespread discontent over Iraq.
Mr Latham has insisted he would make Australia safer by withdrawing its forces
from the Gulf by Christmas if he won the election.
Latham and Howard are currently neck-and-neck in the polls
Labor wants to shift Australia's frontline in the fight against terrorism from the Middle East to its own backyard in South East Asia.
"We don't believe our permanent interests lie on the other side of the world," Mr Latham
However John Howard believes it would be a disaster to "cut and run" from Iraq, and would show that a key member of the US-led alliance had "weakened and buckled."
Iraq was invaded with the help of 2,000 Australian troops, and more than 800 personnel
remain in the region.
The government has insisted they will stay until their job is done.
Ministers have dismissed claims that the
deployment has put Australia in the line of fire, although there are fears over further attacks on the nation's interests overseas in the run-up to the election.
Aldo Borgu, from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, told ABC radio
that the Madrid bombings in March proved extremists will try to
influence the domestic politics of countries involved in Iraq.
"The fact is that groups like al-Qaeda, Jemaah Islamiah, are getting... more
strategic in terms of what they are trying to achieve, and [are] certainly
trying to get broader political objectives from these sort of attacks," he said.
Labor and John Howard's right-wing coalition of Liberals and Nationals are
neck-and-neck in the opinion polls.
Homespun issues - including tax cuts
and funding for schools and hospitals - will play an important part in
deciding who wins on 9 October.
But it is national security that is now dominating the debate, as the letters page of the Australian newspaper has shown.
"I have no doubt the Indonesian bombing is a direct link between Mark Latham
and his statement to bring our troops home from Iraq by Christmas," said one
"Latham's approach to terrorism is simple -run and hide."
Another reader vented her fury towards the prime minister.
"Terrorists target our embassy in Indonesia. Meanwhile, we fight terrorism in Iraq.
Where are our priorities, Mr Howard?" she asked.