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Australia dissolves Parliament ahead of September election

Aug. 6, 2013 at 1:04 AM   |   Comments

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CANBERRA, Australia, Aug. 6 (UPI) -- A 19-gun salute Monday signaled Australia's House of Representatives was dissolved and the official start of electioneering began for polling day Sept. 7.

Labor Party leader Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is hoping to retain power after a bruising several months of turmoil in the party that saw him win a leadership contest in late June.

Rudd, a former prime minister, challenged Prime Minister Julia Gillard who, in 2010, similarly challenged Rudd and won, making her Australia's first woman prime minister.

But winning a federal election may not be as easy for Rudd as winning within his Labor Party.

A national poll released Monday put Labor at 48 percent, behind the Liberal Party-dominated Coalition with 52 percent, The Age reported.

But a Newspoll published in The Australian found 47 percent of voters preferred Rudd as prime minister compared to 33 percent thinking Liberal leader Tony Abbott would do a better job.

Rudd kicked off his campaign by announcing a $450 million package for schools to expand before-school and after-school care services, including the creation of homework clubs and music lessons, ABC reported.

Labor also announced a $200 million assistance package for the country's struggling automotive sector.

Abbott focused on the economy and climate change issues, pledging that his first act as prime minister would be to repeal the Carbon Tax law

When he made the election announcement Sunday, Rudd challenged Abbott to a live televised debate during the five-week run-up to Sept. 7 election day.

Labor is accusing the coalition of dragging its feet over going head to head with Rudd who said he will make the same offer every Sunday up to polling day.

In an interview with Australian Broadcasting Corp. Radio, Rudd said if Abbott wasn't up for a debate, "then I don't really think you're fit to occupy the office of prime minister of Australia."

Abbott, 55, responded to Rudd's comments by telling ABC-TV: "I don't believe in just canceling things that have been arranged for some time to suit Mr. Rudd's convenience."

Rudd, 55, is hoping to get back into office after his successful 2007 election victory, but which turned into a personal defeat when Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard won her leadership challenge in 2010.

Soon after winning leadership of the Labor Party, Gillard as prime minister went to the polls but the country elected a hung parliament.

Labor and the opposition coalition group of the Liberal and National parties each won 72 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives.

It was Labor, after gaining support from the Green Party member of the House and three independents, that formed a minority government.

Rudd remained an elected member of Parliament and Gillard appointed him minister for Foreign Affairs, a post he held until his resignation last year.

But he seldom hid his ambition to return as prime minister, challenging Gillard three times before defeating her.

He won 57 votes in the third leadership ballot of Labor members of Parliament and senators called in June by Gillard, who received 45 votes.

After defeating Gillard, Rudd said he was picking up where he left off.

"In 2007, the Australian people elected me to be their prime minister and that is a task I resume today with humility, with honor and with an important sense of energy and purpose," Rudd said.

A win in September for Labor would legitimize his leadership.

However, Gillard, 51, won't be running in the election. After her defeat at the hands of Rudd, she announced she was retiring from politics.

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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