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Australia's Howard Fights for Political Life

After more than 11 years in power, Prime Minister John Howard is now fighting for his political life as opinion polls continue to point to a Labor victory.

Australia's conservative government remains well behind the opposition in Australia's most prestigious poll.

An AC Nielsen poll released on the even of the election, showed Kevin Rudd's Labor leading by 14 points on preferences.

Howard is trying to gain back Labor's year-long lead in the final days of the campaign trail, by continuing to highlight his perceived strength over Rudd in economic management.

He says the coalition has steered Australia to 16 years of economic expansion and has kept unemployment at 33-year lows.

But the message has been marred by rising interest rates, which now stands at 6.75 percent. The latest quarter point rate increase two weeks ago is the first ever in the middle of an election campaign. It, together with five other rate rises, have shattered Mr Howard’s promise to keep interest rates at record lows.

A report by Taverner Research shows an estimated 32% of households are paying off a mortgage, with many of them concentrated in key marginal seats around capital cities.

Even though only 21% of those voters polled across Victoria and NSW blamed the Government for the last six interest rate rises, more than half who have switched their vote to Labor say rising interest rates are a key factor in their decision.

KEVIN RUDD
Lauren Victoria Burke
KEVIN RUDD

Still, the Prime Minister is fighting back, slamming Rudd's claim that he is an economic conservative and attacking his top five priority list if he wins power, because he failed to mention the economy.

Howard is also promising that Western Australia’s mining boom will continue under a coalition government. He says Kevin Rudd is trying to prepare Australians for the end of this boom, by warning that it will end.

The PM’s hopes also suffered a blow early this week, after revelations of a Government plan to strengthen the already unpopular labor laws.

But Howard continues to deny that a re-elected Government would impose any further changes to the industrial relations system, saying the documents were prepared two and a half years ago and are no longer relevant.

John Howard also continues to claim that Australia will move towards union-influenced policies under a Rudd Government, highlighting the infusion in the front bench shadow cabinet of former union leaders. Seventy percent of the key Rudd team are former trade union officials.

Both Howard and Rudd will have one last chance to impress the nation when they each address the National Press Club in separate live telecasts this week. Rudd is scheduled to appear on Wednesday, while Howard will make his appearance on Thursday.

So, with just two days to go before the election, Labor’s Kevin Rudd remains the voters' choice. That is, if you believe poll results reflects election results.

And should Labor triumph in the elections, for John Howard, this result will end a parliamentary career spanning more than 30 years.