Australians will go to the polls on Dec. 1 to elect a new federal government, with the experts predicting a handsome win for incumbent prime minister, Bob Hawke.
The election will be held less than two years since Mr. Hawke's Labor government was elected to power, and 16 months before the next election is due.
Hawke's decision to hold an early election has long been anticipated. Under the Constitution, the government would have been forced to hold an election for the Senate by April next year. Holding the Senate and House of Representatives elections at the same time maximizes the government's prospects.
The election is being held to capitalize on tax cuts put in the last federal budget, which come into effect in early November. A December election, at the start of the Australian summer, occurs before the numbers of unemployed youths can swell.
Hawke's announcement to the Federal Parliament this week sets the stage for the longest election campaign in Australian political history. Traditionally, the election campaign lasts three to four weeks, and the election date is announced only four to five weeks before polling day.
Hawke is gambling that an eight-week election campaign will allow him to concentrate public attention on the issues most favorable to the government and enable him to capitalize on his enormous popularity.
According to the latest polls, Hawke is rating just under 70 percent, higher than any previous prime minister, while oppostion leader Andrew Peacock's rating is less than 25 percent.
Even among those who intend to vote for the opposition parties, Hawke rates as a better prime ministerial prospect than Mr. Peacock.
In Parliament, two recent polls show Labor leading the opposition by 55 percent to 37 percent. Labor strategists are predicting that Labor will increase its large parliamentary majority.
The government is basing its optimism on the extraordinary turnaround in the economy since Labor was elected in March last year. In announcing the election date, Hawke told Parliament that the government had been elected to revive an economy in the grip of the worst recession Australia had known for 50 years.
He said it had restored economic growth to such an extent that Australia now had the fastest-growing economy of any country among the top 24 industrialized nations.
''We have created a quarter of a million new jobs in 18 months, against the loss of almost a quarter of a million jobs under the previous government,'' he said. Hawke pointed to a reduction in inflation by almost half and reduced interest rates.
Opposition leader Peacock says these changes were due to the breaking of a record drought in rural Australia, and to Australia being dragged along on the coattails of the American recovery.
Peacock plans to fight the election on taxation issues - fears of new taxes on wealth, capital gains, death duties being introduced after the elections, new taxes already imposed on retirement benefits, and the imposition of an assets test on social security pensioners.
He also plans to run hard on the issue of corruption. For the past 12 months there have been a series of allegations of corruption and misuse of political influence involving the judiciary, politicians, and the police in New South Wales, whose Labor premier, Neville Wran, is also federal president of the Labor Party.
A judge of the High Court, Justice Lionel Murphy, has also been caught up in the allegations and the Senate, which is controlled by the opposition parties, is holding an inquiry into his conduct. Before his elevation to the bench, Justice Murphy was attorney-general in the Labor government of E. Gough Whitlam and Labor Party leader in the Senate.
A royal commission that has been investigating organized crime is due to make its report public before the election.
The election will be the first under a new system of public funding, which should allow the Labor Party to match the campaign advertising of its opponents.
In all previous national elections, the Liberal-National Party coalition has outspent the Labor Party by two to one on political advertising on radio and televison.