Australian TV debate gives opposition very faint ray of hope for Saturday election

Australia staged its first-ever television debate between the leaders of the major political parties on Monday, providing the first ray of hope for opposition leader Andrew Peacock for Saturday's federal election.

This could have a considerable effect on his popularity - which is currently very low - but is unlikely to have much effect on the outcome of the election.

Polls taken last weekend, before the debate, showed Bob Hawke's governing Labor Party with a commanding lead over Mr. Peacock's Liberal-National Party coalition. Labor rated between 51 and 54 percent of the vote, vs. about 42 percent for the major opposition parties.

In the last election, Labor scored 49.5 percent of the vote. Any further swing would give it a very large majority in the House of Representatives.

Mr. Peacock's victory in the 90-minute debate, which was carried on every major television station throughout Australia, was largely due to a series of questions put to Prime Minister Hawke about the tapping of journalists' telephones and about alleged corruption in New South Wales, a state controlled by the Labor Party.

Neither issue, however, is likely to affect the outcome of the election, which has concentrated almost entirely on economic management, possible new taxes, and unemployment.

The only foreign-policy issue to emerge during the campaign has been nuclear disarmament, and on that issue, there has been little difference between the major parties.

Both are on the defensive against the newly emerged Nuclear Disarmament Party , which the latest polls suggest is likely to win two seats in the Senate.

The last two weeks of campaigning appear to have salvaged Peacock's reputation. He is now given a much better chance of retaining his leadership of the Liberal Party after the election, provided there is not too marked a swing against his party Saturday.

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