Australia election: Key issues

Australians go to the polls on 7 September in a general election that will see Prime Minister Kevin Rudd take on opposition leader Tony Abbott.

Mr Rudd became prime minister for the second time in June after ousting his Labor colleague and rival Julia Gillard. Now he is back at the helm, the race is a tighter one - but Labor continues to trail the opposition Liberal-National coalition.

Here are some of the key battlegrounds.

Key issues

Kevin Rudd - Labor Tony Abbott - Liberal-National coalition Christine Milne - Greens

Economy

A Westpac automated teller machine (ATM) can be seen next to a woman as she uses a National Australia Bank ATM in central Sydney

Labor says it has steered Australia through the global financial crisis with no recession and low unemployment.

Net debt is about 10% of GDP. Interest rates are also at a record low but unemployment is creeping up. A decade-long mining boom fuelled by demand from China is diminishing. Mr Rudd has called it a "crossover point for our national economy".

Labor is hoping to deliver a resurgence in manufacturing, agriculture, the building industry and tourism.

It has promised to return the budget to a surplus by 2016.

Tony Abbott says the coalition will boost economic growth by "living within our means".

The opposition has vowed to control government spending and implement a faster return to budget surpluses.

Days before the polls, it set out proposed cuts totalling A$42bn, which included savings made by scrapping the carbon and mining taxes and a A$4.5bn reduction in foreign aid over three years.

The coalition says its plan will improve the budget bottom line by A$6bn, and also reduce government debt by A$16bn by June 2017.

The Greens say economic growth must be decoupled from resource use and pollution.

They wants to raise taxes on polluting industries and resource extraction, remove fossil fuel subsidies and end concessions for environmentally harmful industries.

These taxes would be used to subsidise alternative industries to provide new jobs.

The Greens also argue that Australia needs to invest in education and infrastructure, because this will make the country richer in the long-term.

Immigration and Asylum

Australian customs officials and navy personnel escort asylum-seekers to Christmas Island (August 2013)

Labor's stated policy is to stop unauthorised boat arrivals from settling in Australia.

Mr Rudd has agreed a deal with Papua New Guinea's leader Peter O'Neill to send all asylum-seekers to PNG, where they will be settled if found to be refugees.

Labor has signed an agreement to expand its detention centre there from 600 to 3,000 places - but this could face legal challenges in Australia and PNG. It also wants to expand capacity in Nauru.

Tony Abbott has promised to stop the boats, and use the navy to turn back boats to Indonesian waters.

He has also said that refugees in Australia will no longer be given permanent visas, but temporary ones that must be renewed regularly. Those given these visas will be required to work for welfare payments.

The coalition also wants to expand the number of asylum-seekers who can be processed on Nauru.

The Greens want to end offshore processing of asylum-seekers, abolish mandatory detention, increase the quota for humanitarian migration and increase resources to assist resettlement.

Christine Milne resisted calls to compromise on these principles to help break parliamentary deadlock in 2012 concerning asylum policy.

Carbon Tax

A river can be seen flowing through the Tanami Desert in Australia's Northern Territory (July 2013)

Labor has announced it will bring forward the switch from a carbon tax to an emissions trading scheme from July 2015 to July 2014. It will be linked to an EU scheme, with the resulting fall in the carbon price expected to ease the costs on business and exporters.

Both Labor and the coalition are committed to reducing carbon emissions by 5% of 2000 levels by 2020.

Labor has also set a 20% renewable energy target by 2020.

Tony Abbott has promised to abolish the unpopular carbon tax imposed on Australia's top 300 polluters in his first term if the coalition wins the election. He has blamed the tax for job losses and for pushing up electricity prices.

He has called the election a referendum on the carbon tax.

Under his Direct Action plan, farmers and industry will be paid to act to reduce emissions. The coalition has allocated A$3.2bn over four years for this.

The Greens sat on the cross-party committee that designed the carbon price scheme and remain committed to it.

The Greens say: "By making polluters pay, we can raise the revenue we need for investment in a cleaner, greener economy, and ease some of the financial pressures families face.

The Greens argue for faster, deeper emission reductions, are against any new coal-fired power stations or coal mines and will vote against any repeal of the emissions trading scheme.

Childcare

File photo of a pregnant woman

The government's maternity leave scheme pays a minimum wage for up to 18 weeks, and is worth a maximum A$11,200 to recipients.

Labor is proposing to replace the existing baby bonus with a A$2,000 (for the first child, A$1,000 for subsequent children) supplement to Family Tax Benefit Part A.

A cornerstone of Mr Abbott's election policy is a promise to give mothers up to 26 weeks leave, on full pay for salaries up to A$150,000 including superannuation (retirement provision).

The scheme would start on 1 July 2015, and would cost an estimated A$5.5bn a year.

The Greens are proposing a "middle way" on paid parental leave, of 26 weeks at minimum wage, including superannuation, for those earning up to A$100,000.

Employers would have the option to "top up" the payments.

Broadband

A NBN Co worker arranges fibre-optic cables used in the National Broadband Network in west Sydney (July 2013)

The Labor government is half way through building a national high-speed broadband network (NBN), worth A$38bn.

It promises super-high speed broadband by 2021, delivered to households via fibre-optic cables, at speeds of 100 megabits per second or more to people in urban and rural areas.

The opposition has promised to complete the national broadband network by 2019 at a lower cost (about A$20.4bn), but with slower speeds of 25 megabits per second.

It will use fibre optic cables to suburban hubs, but then rely on existing copper wires to deliver the network to each house.

The Greens support Labor's NBN plan and have called the coalition's alternative a "farce".

The party has won amendments to ensure that any future moves to privatise the NBN will be subject to a review to protect the public interest and will require the approval of parliament.

Mining Tax

Rio Tinto reclaimer working in Western Australia's Pilbara region (file photo)

Former PM Julia Gillard and then-treasurer Wayne Swan implemented the tax, which came into effect in July 2012.

It is a 22.5% tax on the profits of iron ore and coal projects - but only on profits over A$75m.

The tax has been disappointing and is forecast to raise a fraction of initial estimates. However, Labor remains committed to the tax in its present form.

The coalition has promised to scrap the controversial mining tax.

It says the best way to make companies pay for being able to extract resources is through state royalties. The opposition is proposing to hand over environmental decision-making - including on controversial coal seam gas projects - to individual states.

The Greens do not support the repeal of the mining tax but do want to make amendments.

They are proposing to increase the tax to 40%, and remove the loopholes regarding state royalties and asset valuation

They want to extend coverage to all commodities that earn super-profits, and oppose any new coal seam gas, shale gas projects or new coal mines.

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