Australian Prime Minister John Howard has announced parliamentary elections for 24 November.
Mr Howard plans to run for a fifth term as prime minister
The PM earlier visited Governor-General Michael Jeffery, the representative of head of state Queen Elizabeth, to ask for the dissolution of parliament.
The veteran PM is seeking a fifth term in office but analysts predict a heavy defeat after 11 years in office.
Mr Howard, 68, is badly trailing his Labor opponent Kevin Rudd, 50, after nine months of dismal polls.
The BBC's Nick Bryant in Sydney says the PM now hopes to persuade the electorate that voting for Labor would be a gamble with prosperity.
Mr Rudd has promised to withdraw Australian troops from Iraq and sign the Kyoto climate pact.
He has also pledged sweeping reforms to health, education and controversial labour laws introduced by the PM.
Younger voters are said to be angry with Mr Howard for introducing legislation that makes it easier to hire and fire workers.
But Mr Howard will point to the enduring strength of the economy.
The Australian stock market is hitting record highs, while unemployment is at a 33-year low.
"Love me or loathe me, the Australian people know where I stand on all the important issues of their future," Mr Howard told a press conference after announcing the election.
He added: "This country does not need new leadership, it does not need old leadership, it needs the right leadership."
More than 13.5m of Australia's roughly 21m people are registered to vote
Electors will choose candidates for all 150 seats in the lower House of Representatives and 40 of the 76 seats in the upper house, the Senate
PM John Howard has led the conservative Liberal-National party coalition to four election wins since 1996 and is seeking a final term
Kevin Rudd is taking the centre-left Labor Party to the polls for the first time as leader
Election issues to be the economy, environment and war in Iraq
Mr Rudd rallied his supporters with a warning that victory was far from a foregone conclusion.
"To win this election we have to make history," he said. "We have only won twice from opposition since World War II.
"I believe this is going to be the fight of our lives."
Mr Howard's unflinching support for US President George W Bush has proven unpopular with many Australian voters, our correspondent says.
The war and the refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate change have found the Liberal Party leader on the wrong side of public opinion, he says.
The PM is even behind in opinion polls in his own Sydney constituency of Bennelong, which he has represented since 1974.