Australia's clash of the titans: Fraser vs. Hawke

The decision to have a snap national election on Mar. 5 has pitted two titans of Australian politics against each other. Their battle will be waged on economic issues.

The Liberal Party prime minister, Malcolm Fraser, intends to wage a campaign against trade union resistance to his government's six-month wage freeze. Bob Hawke, the newly named leader of the opposition Labor Party and ex-trade union organizer, will campaign against unemployment and inflation. However, the Labor Party's overall economic policy is still being drafted.

Both leaders are expected to unveil their formal election platforms in a little over a week, leaving just 2 1/2 weeks of campaigning before election day.

Mr. Fraser called the election nine months early as Australia's economy heads into deeper recession, with unemployment approaching 10 percent and inflation over 11 percent.

The election involves all the seats in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Normally only half the Senate seats are at stake in a federal election, but Fraser brought on the special poll because his governing Liberal-National Country Party alliance did not control a majority in the Senate.

Fraser's decision to hold the election coincided with an upheaval within the opposition Labor Party that resulted in last week's replacement of its leader for the past five years, Bill Hayden, with the former head of Australia's trade union movement, Bob Hawke.

Mr. Hawke's accession to the Labor leadership, following Mr. Hayden's resignation, will improve Labor's chances of holding on to its 4 percent lead in the opinion polls. Hawke is a charismatic figure who has long been regarded as the most popular political figure in Australia - though he has been a member of Parliament only since October 1980. In the polls he heads the list of favored candidates for prime minister.

In a Feb. 3 editorial, the Australian Financial Review wrote: ''On the one hand there will be a leader with no experience of government, and not much of Parliament, who has to offer only a style and charisma, no policies except subjugation to the union movement, and a vague promise of social consensus.

''On the other hand there will be a prime minister who comes to the electorate with a reputation for ruthless opportunism, total inconsistency in domestic policy, and yet, it must be admitted, a reputation also for effective government and realism.

''It may be that the glamour will prevail. . . .''

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