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Australia elections charged with scandals, economic issues

Australia's first normally scheduled federal election in eight years is shaping up as a lively -- even bitter -- affair. Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser is touting his record on cutting inflation in half in his first two years in office (1975 to 1977).

But inflation has risen recently (from 7 to 10 percent), and the opposition Labor Party and its leader, William Hayden, are flaying away at the Fraser government by publicizing scandals and making much of the resignations of several prominent ministers. The Labor Party's campaign slogan: "Raise the standard."

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Since 1972 australia's pattern of federal elections every three years has been interrupted either for reasons of constitutional crisis or because the prime minister of the day called for early elections at time that were to his political advantage. This is the first year national polling is back on course.

Whether the Fraser government continues in office after the Oct. 18 balloting depends on the outcome of elections to the 125-member House of Representatives. Labor would need a swing of more than 6 percent to unseat the government. The size of that swing has persuaded many politicians that the government is in no danger of defeat.

But public opinion polls suggest that a swing to Labor is possible. Over the past two years, polls have shown Labor commands a bigger popular vote than does Mr. Fraser's Liberal-National Country coalition government. Only in the past month has the government shown any edge in the polls.

The Fraser government may also lose its working majority in the Senate. At best, it may win a two-seat majority; but most experts predict it will control only half the votes in the 64-seat chamber -- insufficient to carry its own resolutions.

Economic issues are likely to dominate the election campaign, along with foreign affairs, high fuel prices, and personality and leadership issues.

The main economic issue in the campaign will be Prime Minister Fraser's record on inflation. The government insists that the Liberals provide the country with its best financial management, despite the recent upturn in inflation.

Unemployment has risen under Mr. Fraser's leadership. It flattened out in the past year, but last month it began to creep up again.

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On foreign policy, Mr. Fraser is making fiery speeches about the threat of the Soviet Union to the West. He says the Afghanistan issue proves his warnings for many years of the reality of a Russian threat. His calls for increased defense spending, which he says should reach 3 percent of gross domestic product in five years.

Mr. Fraser doesn't have too look to hard to come up with his own rejoinders to meet Labor charges of scandal. Liberals are expected to revive the 1975 scandal about the Labor government's attempt to float a multibillion dollar loan from Arabs to nationalize the nation's energy resources.

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