As Australian vote nears, Labor government appears to have election in the bag

Four weeks after the beginning of Australia's national election campaign and less than three weeks before the vote Dec. 1, public-opinion polls suggest that the Labor government is easily maintaining its dominance over the opposition Liberal-National Party coalition.

In the House of Representatives, Labor holds 53 percent of the vote in the lastest polls, 2 percent more than it scored in the 1983 elections when it won power. The government has been trumpeting its record since its election - reduced inflation (halved in the last 18 months), lower unemployment, more jobs, lower interest rates, and a tax cut that went into effect Nov. 1.

The government's major asset is the popularity of its leader, Prime Minister Bob Hawke, who stands at about 70 percent in the polls, compared with about 20 percent for opposition leader Andrew Peacock.

Mr. Hawke's gambit in making the campaign twice as long as usual seems to have had its intended effect of downgrading the importance of any issues that might emerge in the campaign and confirming the contest as a popularity poll between the two leaders.

One of the opposition's major problems is that even its traditional supporters are, on this occasion, refusing to attack the policies of the Hawke government.

This week the new president of the Business Council of Australia, Robert White, expressed satisfaction with the last budget of the Hawke government, its positive attitude toward attacking business regulation, and its announced budgetary plans. Mr. White is head of Australia's largest private bank, which in the past has supported the Liberal-National coalition.

The government's major concerns are deflecting the opposition's criticism of its tax policy and heading off a fringe party that seems likely to win Senate seats at the expense of government candidates.

The Nuclear Disarmament Party, created a few months ago, contains some former Labor members but is also receiving support from conservative and conservationist groups. It opposes uranium development, nuclear arms, visits of United States warships, and the ANZUS (Australia-New Zealand-US) defense alliance. Polls suggest it could win five seats in the Senate and hold the balance of power there, together with other minor parties.

The Liberal-National coalition has forced Hawke to be more specific about the future tax policies. He insists the government would not increase the total tax share of gross domestic product but would favor indirect taxes over the income taxes that now dominate the tax system.

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