Australian election: Key issues

Julia Gillard has won a very narrow victory to remain as Australia's prime minister after the country's 14 million voters delivered the first hung parliament for 70 years.

Here, the BBC examines the key policy battle grounds.

MINING TAX

The hugely unpopular planned 40% "super tax" on the mining sector was partly blamed for former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's downfall. His successor Julia Gillard sought to soothe investors when she came to office by revising the tax down to 30% after talks with mining giants BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Xstrata. Ms Gillard has said she will not budge from this figure.

But Ms Gillard is likely to need the support of the Greens in the new parliament to pass the tax. They have been critical of the watered-down version.

Tony Abbott had promised to axe the proposed tax if he emerged as the country's new leader.

ECONOMY

Under Kevin Rudd, Labor successfully steered the country through the global financial crisis with no recession and low unemployment. Julia Gillard has trumpeted this and pledged to return the budget to surplus in 2012-13 as forecast, with a 2% cap on new expenditure pending bigger surpluses.

Tony Abbott said he would reduce debt by a third and return the budget to surplus in 2012-13. He pledged stronger control on spending and a cut of 12,000 public service jobs with a two-year recruitment freeze.

IMMIGRATION

Traditionally both major parties have supported a strong migration programme but with the Labor government forecasting Australia's population to swell from 21.5 million to 36 million by 2050, Ms Gillard is now targeting a "sustainable" population policy.

It comes amid concerns about decaying infrastructure, rocketing housing costs and the nation's environment. She has announced plans to cut net immigration from around 300,000 in 2009 to 145,000 by 2012.

Tony Abbott said he would put measures in place to ensure that annual net immigration did not exceed 170,000, and forecast growth of no more than 1.4% against the current 2%.

ASYLUM SEEKERS

So far during 2010 Australian authorities have stopped more than 80 boats carrying close to 4,000 asylum seekers - an increase of more than 1,000 on the total figure for 2009.

The issue of asylum, stoked by alarmist tabloid headlines, has become an election issue that is being seen by many as out of proportion with the scale of the problem.

Australian currently has an annual humanitarian intake of 13,750 refugees.

Julia Gillard has sought to appear tough on the issue, and has proposed processing unauthorised boat and plane arrivals in East Timor, thus sharing the burden of accepting refugees with other countries in the region. But her plan is already in serious doubt after East Timor's parliament voted in July to reject it.

Tony Abbott pledged to "stop the boats" by reinstating the so-called Pacific Solution, detaining asylum seekers on the Pacific Island of Nauru. This policy was widely seen as the winning factor in the conservatives 2001 election victory under John Howard.

PARENTAL LEAVE

According to the opinion polls, Julia Gillard is the preferred prime minister amongst women. Many women view Tony Abbott with suspicion as the BBC's Nick Bryant explains in his blog.

One way that Tony Abbott tackled the gender problem was by advocating a paid parental leave scheme, despite anger from the pro-Liberal business lobby.

He proposed a 1.5% tax on companies earning more than A$5m ($4.5m; £2.9m), in order to fund a 26-week leave scheme based on the mother's wage, up to A$150,000. This would start in 2012.

Labor say they will fund 18 weeks on minimum wage from January 2011. They have also promised new fathers two weeks' paid leave, from July 2012.

CLIMATE CHANGE

Kevin Rudd shelved the centrepiece of his environmental strategy, the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), which led to accusations of political cowardice.

Julia Gillard has rowed a long way back from Rudd's policy. She has tried to neutralise the issue by announcing the creation of a Citizens Assembly to reach community consensus for a price on carbon - but this too has been criticised by Liberals and Greens alike as an act of political cowardice.

She says she wants a 5% carbon emissions cut by 2020.

Under Tony Abbott, the Liberal Party appeared fundamentally opposed to a price on carbon. Mr Abbott stated "there will be no carbon price on consumers under a Coalition government, none whatsoever". However, he says he will match Labor's 5% emissions cut by 2020.

Australian political commentators say that for real action on climate change, the electorate would probably have to vote Green. The Greens are proposing a two-year carbon tax set at A$23 a tonne on the biggest polluters, with A$5bn returned to households, with a long-term 100% renewable energy goal.

BROADBAND

Australia's sluggish broadband speeds are a significant issue.

The Labor government plans to create a National Broadband Network based on fibre optics at an estimated cost of A$43bn. It would offer download speeds of 100 megabits per second that would reach 93% of Australian homes and premises.

The opposition put forward a cheaper alternative: a A$6.3bn network, based on upgrading existing copper networks. It would reach 97% of the population, be rolled out sooner, but the broadband speeds would be slower - a minimum of 12 megabits per second.

The opposition claims the National Broadband Network will be a "great big white elephant". The government claims the opposition is offering Australians a "second-class" broadband network, which will leave the country in the "digital dark ages".

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