THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published — Thursday 31 January 2013
Last update 31 January 2013 1:14 am
CANBERRA, Australia: Prime Minister Julia Gillard surprised Australians yesterday by announcing that elections will be held Sept. 14, in a country where governments have traditionally given the opposition little more than a month’s notice to keep a strategic advantage.
In a speech to the National Press Gallery, Gillard said she wanted to create an environment in which voters could more easily focus on national issues by removing uncertainty around the timing of the elections.
“I reflected on this over the summer and thought it is not right for Australians to be forced into a guessing game, and it is not right for Australians to not face this year with certainty and stability,” she said, referring to her holiday break during the current Southern Hemisphere summer.
Experts disagreed about whether Gillard’s unconventional move would give her an advantage in the elections. Some said voters would embrace her for making the early announcement on the date, while others suggested that Gillard had above all created a grueling eight-month election campaign instead of the usual five-week campaign.
Opinion polls suggest the conservative opposition coalition led by Tony Abbott is likely to win the elections convincingly.
Abbott welcomed the announcement on the date. He said the elections would “be about trust,” echoing his Liberal Party’s campaign theme during its last successful election campaign in 2004.
“The choice before the Australian people could not be clearer,” he told reporters. “It is more tax or less, it is more regulation or less, it is less competence or more, it is less freedom or more.”
Abbott has promised to remove the carbon tax that Australia’s biggest polluters pay, as well as the tax paid by coal and iron ore miners. Both taxes were introduced in July.
Gillard’s center-left Labor Party narrowly scraped through the last elections on Aug. 21, 2010, to form a minority government with the support of independent legislators and a lawmaker from the minor Greens party.
She said she consulted with Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan and senior colleagues to help her make the decision on the date. Two independent lawmakers who support Gillard’s government, Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor, said they were informed of the date Tuesday night.