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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 October 2007, 06:04 GMT 07:04 UK
Rudd 'extending lead' over Howard
Kevin Rudd (L) and John Howard (R) file pics
Mr Howard (R) faces a tough battle against Mr Rudd
Australian opposition leader Kevin Rudd has strengthened his lead over Prime Minister John Howard ahead of November elections, a new poll suggests.

Mr Rudd led Mr Howard by 58% to 42% - a gap of 16 points - according to a Newspoll published in The Australian daily newspaper.

The gap stood at 12 points a week ago, after Mr Howard pledged tax cuts on the opening day of his campaign.

Mr Rudd needs a nationwide swing of 5% to win the elections on 24 November.

Mr Howard, the 68-year-old leader of the Liberal Party, is seeking a fifth three-year term in the top job.

But 50-year-old Labor Party leader Mr Rudd has led him consistently in polling for several months.

'Very cunning'

The opposition leader, who has also unveiled a tax plan, played down the results of the poll.

"You don't take all this terribly seriously," he told local media.

"I've got to win 16 seats and what I also know is I'm up against a very clever and very cunning politician. It's going to be very tough."

Health Minister Tony Abbott, meanwhile, described the poll as "radically at odds with the experience that we've had in the streets as government members over the last couple of weeks".

The poll, taken just before Sunday's debate between the two contenders, was based on a telephone survey of 1,706 voters.

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