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Key issues as Australians vote in national elections

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Key issues facing Australians as they went to the polls on Saturday:

-- The economy and jobs --

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd declared the economy the focus for the election and has campaigned on his centre-left Labor administration's success in keeping Australia out of a recession during the global financial crisis.

But as an unprecedented, decade-long mining boom slows, and Australia's budget deficit forecast has blown out to Aus$30 billion (US$27 billion), the country is facing slower growth, higher unemployment and cautious household spending.

Both Rudd and the conservative Liberal/National opposition led by Tony Abbott claim to be the better economic managers, but Rudd has warned that Abbott will order billions in cuts that will risk throwing the economy into recession, while Abbott says Australia "cannot afford" another three years of Labor's budget blowouts.

-- Asylum-seekers --

Australia has struggled to stop asylum-seekers arriving by boat despite the prospect of lengthy detention in immigration camps, including in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, and the regular tragedy of refugees drowning en route.

The issue is considered a key one in congested metropolitan areas such as western Sydney, where voters fear migrants will take their jobs and receive taxpayer-funded welfare benefits while they struggle to pay their bills.

The government hardened its policy in July to ensure boatpeople would be resettled in PNG or Nauru, even if found to be genuine refugees.

Abbott has pledged to "stop the boats", saying he will turn them back when it is safe to do so and potentially buy boats from Indonesian fishermen to prevent them from ending up in the hands of people-smugglers.

-- Climate change/carbon tax --

Australia, a major coal exporter, has struggled with its response to climate change despite the arid continent being in the frontline for the extreme weather and other hazards forecast for a warming planet.

Rudd has promised to scrap the carbon tax brought in by Labor after the 2010 election and move to a carbon emissions trading scheme by July 2014.

Abbott has said his first priority, if elected, will be to scrap the carbon tax. His alternative "direct action" plan includes an emissions reduction fund to encourage business and industry efforts and a controversial scheme to attempt to sequester carbon dioxide in soil.

-- Social issues --

Abbott has made a paid parental leave scheme, under which women will receive 26 weeks at full pay up to a salary cap of Aus$150,000 after having a baby, his "signature" policy. Labor, which introduced a scheme that gives women 18 weeks' pay at the minimum wage, has criticised the policy as unaffordable.

Rudd, a devout Christian, has promised to introduce a bill in parliament if re-elected to legalise gay marriage. Abbott, a one-time trainee Catholic priest, does not support same-sex unions but has not ruled out a conscience vote on the issue.

mfc/mp/jw

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130906/key-issues-australians-vote-national-elections