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New Australian PM calls for August election

By the CNN Wire Staff
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard addresses the media at the Lowy Institute on July 6 in Sydney.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard addresses the media at the Lowy Institute on July 6 in Sydney.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Opposition leader says Gillard has not "established her credentials to govern"
  • Prime Minister Julia Gillard says Australians will vote in a national election August 21
  • Gillard says her priorities include education and investing in renewable energy
  • Gillard is seeking her own mandate after replacing Rudd in June
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(CNN) -- New Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, seeking a mandate from voters, has called for a national election August 21.

Speaking to reporters in the nation's capital in Canberra on Saturday afternoon, Gillard presented her campaign platform as she announced that Australians would head to the polls in just over a month.

"This election, I believe, presents Australians with a very clear choice,'' she said. ''This election is about the choice as to whether we move Australia forward or go back.''

Since she ousted predecessor Kevin Rudd on June 24, Gillard has said she would call a parliamentary election soon to seek the public's endorsement. Gillard was Rudd's deputy prime minister, but Labor Party members of Parliament voted her into the top job as Rudd's public approval went into a steep decline.

Gillard said Saturday that her priorities would include investing more in solar power and renewable energy, reforming education with a new national curriculum and keeping the country's economy strong.

Conservative opposition leader Tony Abbott was quick to condemn Gillard's government.

"The prime minister wants to move forward because the recent past is so littered with her own failures," he said.

Speaking to reporters less than an hour after the elections announcement, he said Gillard "has rushed to the polls before she's established her credentials to govern."

Abbott said his government would end government waste, repay debts and stop new taxes.

Gillard, a 48-year-old lawyer, said when she became prime minister that she was aware the move made her the nation's first woman in that position, "and maybe the first redhead."

But, she said at the time, "I didn't set out to crash my head on any glass ceilings; I set out to keep my feet on the floor."

Among the clusters of people standing outside the governor-general's residence, one supporter held up a sign reading "Go Girl."

Gillard has said she would work to harness wind and solar energy and to pursue putting a price on carbon emissions but noted she would not address the latter goal -- which her predecessor had been unable to achieve -- until after a general election.

"First, we will need to establish a common consensus for action," she said last month.

Making good on a promise that she would also pursue increasing taxes on mining companies -- another issue that had stirred controversy and fierce opposition from the industry -- she announced earlier this month that Australia's leading mining companies had agreed to pay a 30 percent tax on the profits from iron-ore and coal mining.

The plan, which scrapped the name "super-profits" that had been used by her predecessor, was a step back from what Rudd, had sought -- a 40 percent tax on profits across the mining industry.

Gillard's rapid resolution of the issue put her in a strong position to emerge victorious once she calls the snap election. Since taking over last month, she has established a sizable lead in public approval polls over conservative opposition leader Abbott.

A Herald/Nielsen poll released this week said 56 percent of those surveyed preferred Gillard as prime minister, while only 35 percent supported Abbott.

Gillard said she was prepared to face tough questions from voters in the run-up to the election.

"I believe that election campaigns should test their leaders. I believe that we'll all be tested in this election campaign," she said.

CNN's John Raedler contributed to this report.

 
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