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New Australian PM calls for August election

By the CNN Wire Staff
A combo photo shows Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and opposition leader Tony Abbott.
A combo photo shows Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and opposition leader Tony Abbott.
  • NEW: Economic issues will likely play a leading role in the upcoming campaign
  • Prime Minister Julia Gillard says Australians will vote in a national election August 21
  • Opposition leader says new prime minister has not "established her credentials to govern"
  • Gillard is seeking her own mandate after replacing PM Kevin Rudd in June

(CNN) -- New Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, seeking a mandate from voters, said Saturday that a national election would be held August 21.

Speaking to reporters in the nation's capital in Canberra, 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 declined.

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" and argued that Gillard's rapid ascension to the post should raise concerns with voters.

Moving forward of course means bringing the budget to surplus by 2013 -- three years ahead of schedule...
--Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard

"Why should people trust Julia Gillard when even Kevin Rudd couldn't?" he asked.

Economic issues will likely play a large role in the upcoming election. Australia has a historically low unemployment rate of 5.1 percent and the country was able to avoid recession during the recent worldwide economic downturn.

Gillard said Saturday that her priorities include keeping the country's economy strong.

"Moving forward of course means bringing the budget to surplus by 2013 -- three years ahead of schedule, a surplus that I will protect in this election campaign by not going on an election spend-a-thon, by making sure that any promise we make to spend money is offset by a promise to save money," she said.

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's priorities include investing more in solar power and renewable energy, and reforming education with a new national curriculum, she said Saturday.

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.

Abbott said he was ready to fight and committed to winning.

"I expect this to be a filthy campaign from the Labor Party, but as far as I'm concerned, it will be hard, it will be fair and it will be clean," he said.

CNN's John Raedler contributed to this report.