Less than two weeks before the Australian federal election (Oct. 18) the governing Liberal-National Country Party coalition is suddenly very worried that it might lose.
Three public opinion polls published in a period of four days show that there has been a swing of 5 to 9 percent away from the government. A shift of just over 6 percent would see the government defeated, and a Labor Party government installed in Canberra.
Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser's reaction was to suggest that the polls would "shake the complacency out of peoples' hair." But he said there would be no major change in the government's electoral strategy.
The Labor Party is cautiously optimistic. But it, too, remembers that it seemed to have a good chance at the same period in the last election in 1977 but voters then swung back toward the government. It fears that once again the voters will become conservative if they think that Labor has a real chance of victory.
Prime Minister Fraser's policy is basically to stand on his record, to criticize the previous Labor government, and to point out that inflation is higher elsewhere in the world.
He is putting great store on the coming resources boom in Australia, predicted to be worth at least $29 billion (Australian) in this decade. Last week contracts were signed for an offshore petroleum gas development in northwest Australia, which will cost at least $8 billion over five years. The prime minister is suggesting that developments such as these would be threatened if Labor was in government.
Labor Party leader William Hayden has also been stressing the need for economic responsibility. But he has promised a tax cut of $3 a week for all wage and salary earners, and no increase in gasoline prices for 12 months. He and the prime minister have spent a lot of time swapping accusations about the cost of their respective promises to the obvious confusion of the electorate.
The government is expected to try to turn more attention on defense and foreign policy in the next week. It will be using a series of training flights by US B-52 bombers over northern Australia this week to contrast the differing attitudes of the two parties toward the presence of US bases in Australia.
The present government hopes to see more US bases in Australia, while the Labour Party would allow more bases only where it could be sure that aircraft and ships were not carrying nuclear weapons.