polls point to landslide for labor

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    Aussie Labor leads in poll after TV debate
    Survey shows the opposition holds a five-point lead under the country's two-party preferred system of voting

    By Roger Maynard
    Singapore

    SYDNEY - The opposition Labor Party is pulling ahead in the polls after a nationally televised debate, which saw a head-to-head confrontation over Australia's Iraq and anti-terrorism policies.

    According to a Newspoll survey, Labor leads the Liberal-National Party coalition by 52.5 to 47.5 per cent under Australia's two-party preferred system of voting, where minority party votes are distributed to the two main parties and ultimately decide a ballot.

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    This is the first time since the election was called nearly a month ago that the opposition has enjoyed a clear lead on second preferences. However, it is two points behind the government on primary voting, or first count of votes.

    Labor leader Mark Latham, who was widely believed to have won last week's debate, accused Prime Minister John Howard of wasting energy on Iraq when he should have been concentrating on the war against terror in his own region.

    Such sentiments may have struck a chord with voters.

    In the past few days, there has been a rush by each party to outdo the other with their national defence and anti-terrorism policies.

    After upsetting half of Asia again with his comments about pre-emptive military action against terrorist cells in the region, Mr Howard adopted a more conciliatory tone by stressing that this would happen only in collaboration with the government of the nation concerned.

    Mr Latham decided to stick to less inflammatory language, announcing a special coast guard service to patrol Australia's northern borders and help with maritime surveillance.

    Both leaders have also returned to the domestic agenda, which for the past few weeks has involved promising handouts to the sick and the disadvantaged.

    While Mr Latham was promoting the benefits of Labor's multimillion-dollar health package, Mr Howard was banging the economic credibility drum on Wednesday. The Prime Minister said: 'Oct 9 will be a referendum on who can better manage the Australian economy and keep this country strong at a time of international terrorism.'

    Mr Howard is correct, but there is another factor which has entered the campaign and the major parties are only just waking up to it - the green vote.

    Six out of 10 Australians consider the environment the key election issue, so it is no surprise to see Labor and the Liberals wooing the greenies.

    On Tuesday, Mr Howard announced a new marine research facility for the Great Barrier Reef while Mr Latham earlier unveiled a strategy designed to save rivers and improve water efficiency.

    Australians know what it is like to be in the front line of climate change. Farmers have just endured the worst drought in more than a century and even the cities are suffering.

    The man who stands to benefit the most from the new environmental consciousness is Senator Bob Brown, the leader of the Greens Party.

    Australians, he said, were very clued in about the environment. 'We've seen enormous bush fires burning the national capital and people are aware that global warming very likely made it worse,' he said.

    He hopes to double his party's representation in the 76-member Senate from two and, just conceivably, hold the balance of power in the event of a hung parliament.

    It would have been an unthinkable prospect a few years ago, but the climate is clearly changing.
 
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