There are three issues in Australia's federal election, according to a senior politician: ''jobs, jobs, and jobs.'' This evaluation of the Australian mood - made by Neville Wran, president of the Labor Party and premier of New South Wales - is only a small exaggeration.
In a nation used to almost full employment, the impact of rising unemployment - now 10.1 percent - has been severe. And politicians warn there may never be a return to full employment.
One reaction to the growing joblessness is suspicion of new technology; unions fear it will take jobs from humans. Another reaction is calls for an end to immigration.
The Fraser government has made some cuts in this year's immigrant intake, but it points out that immigrants are closely screened and that many work in specific trades and professions that Australia needs. Most others are close relatives of people already settled in Australia, and it is government policy that such ''family reunions'' be permitted.
On the fringes of the country's politics, small racist groups call for an end to Asian immigration. (One in 3 immigrants today is from Southeast Asia.) But officials say there is no evidence that these racist groups are gaining much support.
Australia's inflation rate is also rising. Now 12 percent, it makes life even more difficult for the jobless. More people are going on the dole and staying on it longer. All this makes the government's budget deficit bigger than originally forecast, and some people are cynical about ever finding a job. - a worry Australia has not encountered before.
Mr. Fraser says Australia's predicament is caused largely by world recession, which reduced the demand for Australian exports, and by militant labor unions, which it says won excessive pay hikes and helped make Australian products uncompetitive.
The Labor Party, on the other hand, blames the government's handling of the economy for the growth of unemployment and rising inflation.
Mr. Fraser has promised to create places in the military for 10,000 unemployed young volunteers if he is reelected. The youths would receive job skills and military training.
Mr. Hawke pledges to create 500,000 jobs over a three-year period. But his critics accuse him of ''throwing money'' at the problem by creating employment artificially.