Australia: Gillard gives election hint

By Stephen Johnson

CANBERRA - Julia Gillard has promised to ask the Australian people for their trust, as Governor-General Quentin Bryce cut short an overseas trip, prompting talk of an August election being called within days.

The prime minister was coy about an election date but gave the strongest hint yet the government was in pre-election mode.

"In the days to come I will be putting forward more detailed arguments about some of the biggest challenges facing our nation," Ms Gillard told a think tank in Adelaide.

"I will ask for the Australian people's trust to move Australia forward."

There is a possibility Ms Gillard will ask Ms Bryce to dissolve parliament before she heads to France on Saturday.

Government House confirmed Ms Bryce had originally intended to leave Australia on Friday, igniting speculation the trip was postponed so the prime minister could seek to have the writs for an election issued.

The trip, to include stops in Singapore and the UK over 11 days, has been shortened to five days.

Ms Bryce will head to France to pay tribute to Australian soldiers killed at Fromelles during World War I.

The governor-general had reduced the time she was away because she has "constitutional responsibilities" that may require her to be in Australia, her office told AAP.

Ms Gillard can go to Government House this week for an August 21 election, although an August 28 poll is still the choice of punters.

Asked if she was likely to call the election this week, the prime minister said she had some governing to do.

"Obviously I've said to the Australian people that there are some issues we needed to address as a government, some things where I thought we had got off track and that we needed to get back on track," she told reporters.

"I've been working on those."

Federal cabinet meets in Canberra tomorrow, in what could be the last top-level discussion before an election is called.

Senior ministers are likely to discuss political tactics as the asylum-seeker issue continues to dog the government.

Fifty-six per cent of respondents to an Essential Research poll, published today, believed Labor was too soft on the issue.

But 42 per cent of people approved of the way Ms Gillard is addressing the issue, compared with 33 per cent who disapproved.

Ahead of a possible election announcement, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is downplaying the coalition's chances as opinion polls show a consolidation in the Labor vote.

"I've always said that we will go into this election as underdogs," he told reporters in Canberra.

"We are up against a first-term government which is backed by ... the most ruthless political machine in Australia's history."

Since Ms Gillard ousted Kevin Rudd almost three weeks ago, Labor's ratings have improved, with the Nielsen and Galaxy polls showing a 52-48 two-party-preferred lead over the coalition.

The Galaxy poll showed the Greens' vote lifting from 12 per cent to 14 per cent, as voters dismayed at Labor's tougher stance on asylum seekers abandoned the government.

The same poll showed 59 per cent of voters regarded Labor's East Timor solution for a regional processing centre as poorly planned, even though 63 per cent approved of the tougher stance.

- AAP

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf04 at 27 Dec 2014 05:47:23 Processing Time: 468ms