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Wednesday, 31 October, 2001, 12:45 GMT
Australian election: The issues
Prime Minister John Howard's conservative coalition is leading opinion polls ahead of the 10 November election, but Kim Beazley's Labor party is closing the gap. BBC News Online looks at the key issues that will decide the vote.


Six months ago John Howard was trailing badly in the polls but the issue of asylum seekers - specifically Mr Howard's uncompromising handling of the Tampa crisis in August - has made him favourite to win. The prime minister refused to allow the Norwegian freighter to land with its human cargo of more than 400 mainly Afghan refugees. The majority of voters supported his tough stance.

Labor says its views on asylum do not differ greatly from the government's but Kim Beazley has argued that the coalition's failed diplomacy is the reason why so many people are arriving illegally on Australia's shores.


The Howard government's commitment to the US-led war on terrorism has been another hit with voters. That is why the prime minister wants to keep it in the spotlight, while his Labor opponent would rather talk about domestic concerns.

Mr Beazley fully supports the government's decision to deploy 1,550 troops and military hardware to Afghanistan.

Mr Howard has promised to increase defence spending by 3% a year up to $500m (Aus $1bn) by 2005. He also wants to give the Army Reserve a greater role in military operations. The Coalition claims Labor's defence policies - including plans to cut the army - would be dangerous for Australia.

Kim Beazley was a defence minister in the last Labor government and has warned against Australia being dragged into a wider war on terror.


Kim Beazley has put plans for his 'Knowledge Nation' at the centre of his campaign. He has promised $500m (Aus $1bn) for Australia's universities and schools, with emphasis on teacher training and extra help for pupils with behaviour problems. Mr Beazley has promised the "best possible education system for all Australians." Most of this commitment will not be funded by new money.

Mr Howard has also focused on his ability to deliver on education, pledging to create 28,000 new undergraduate university places.

Goods and services tax (GST):

Labor has promised to ease the controversial Goods and Services Tax, the GST. It is a 10% levy introduced by the Howard government in July 2000 to provide a stable revenue stream. Australians were compensated by income tax cuts and increased welfare payments. A Newspoll survey found 53% of voters opposed the GST while 39% were in favour. Labor wants to rollback the tax on essentials like electricity and gas to make it "simpler and fairer."

The policy is squarely targeted at low and middle-income earners. John Howard has no plans to change it.


The centrepiece of the coalition's re-election strategy is the promise of more than $500m (Aus $1bn) of tax breaks to new families. New mothers will be able to claim back tax paid the year before their first child is born, averaged out over five years, with a maximum of $1,264 (Aus $2,500) a year.

Labor has dismissed the policy as doing nothing for the poor.

Voters can forget about lower personal income tax rates due to the slowly disappearing budget surplus.


John Howard wants the Lucky Country to also be the Healthy Country. In outlining the coalition's $150m (Aus $300m) health policy, the prime minister said 150 doctors would be lured to work in outer city suburbs and country people would get better cancer screening and treatment services. Reducing hospital waiting lists would also be a priority.

Kim Beazley has said that Labor would cut the cancer death rate and has pledged a $163m (Aus $322m), four-year spending package to fight the disease. Cancer causes more than a quarter of all deaths each year in Australia.

See also:

31 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia defends asylum stance
08 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Air strikes overshadow Australian election
09 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia talks tough on migrants
01 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Pacific states step into the breach
21 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Howard's refugee gamble paying off
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