Australia's election campaign paused yesterday as the realities of leadership were brought home to Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott in the northern New South Wales town of Murwillumbah.

The two leaders declared a truce for the day to attend the funeral of Nathan Bewes, a 23-year-old soldier killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, the fifth to die in the past two months and the 17th Digger killed in a conflict now longer than the nation's war in Vietnam.

Afghanistan is just one of a series of pressing foreign issues that have been put into caretaker hands during the campaign, but which will be waiting for whoever wins the August 21 election.

The latest Reuters poll trend, measuring the major opinion polls, yesterday showed Labor leading the Coalition in the two-party preferred vote by 53.5 per cent to 46.5 per cent.

Labor's lead has risen by almost 2 per cent and, if repeated uniformly across the nation on polling day, would return the Government with an extra 10 seats in the House of Representatives.

But even if the Opposition reaches power, Australia's foreign relations would be in the hands of a novice: neither Gillard nor Abbott has any experience in international affairs. Both have travelled abroad on official visits, but neither has held ministerial or shadow portfolios related to foreign relations. Both have dealt with health, education, indigenous affairs and employment and workplace relations in Parliament. Abbott has added experience in youth and family and community services.

"I'm not going to pretend that I've come to this position with a lifetime in foreign affairs," Gillard told ABC's 7.30 Report. "I haven't."

She accepted she did not have the foreign experience of ousted Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, a Mandarin-speaking former diplomat.

Gillard has said she wants engagement with the region to stamp her Government's role on foreign affairs, and has reaffirmed her commitment to the United States alliance.

While both sides of politics support Australia's commitment of 1500 troops to Afghanistan, the withdrawal of the Dutch forces with whom they were working, and plans for the exit of most foreign forces by 2014, will prompt serious thought in Canberra.

Although most Australians now want their troops to exit, the Government has said only that numbers could start "thinning" when Afghan forces are deemed capable of taking over, probably in two to four years' time. Abbott, formerly a supporter of boosting Australia's commitment, now supports the present size of the deployment.

Elsewhere, both leaders will have to deal with the renewed surge in asylum seekers' boats from Indonesia. More than 4000 people are held in detention centres and nine boats with about 500 crew and passengers have arrived since Gillard won power.

Gillard has so far not been able to convince East Timor to accept her plan of an offshore centre there, nor to win real support among important neighbours for a "regional solution". The heat and language of the row within Australia - merged now with a widening debate on migration and population growth - also threatens to renew Asian perceptions of Australian xenophobia.

Relations with Fiji continue to deteriorate, and criticism is growing of Gillard's decision to stay home and campaign instead of attending the Pacific Islands Forum summit in Vanuatu next month, although Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith may go.

- AAP reported that in Papua New Guinea, Prime Minister Michael Somare has picked eight new faces in his Cabinet after a mass defection to the Opposition threatened to topple his Government.Closer to home Rudd's shadow continues to dog Gillard. News that he has been offered a part-time job with the United Nations has fuelled Opposition claims that he plans to jump ship, despite his promises to serve a full term if re-elected.

If he is re-elected, Gillard has promised him a senior Cabinet post, which, with foreign affairs filled, could cause serious headaches.

Apart from asylum seekers and his new support for the present scale of involvement in Afghanistan, Abbott has yet to say much on international matters - although his promise to dump Australia's bid for a UN Security Council seat as part of a cost-cutting programme has raised some eyebrows.