Gillard sets Australia poll date of 14 September

Ms Gillard said the move allowed for a "reasoned" campaign

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Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has called a general election for 14 September.

Ms Gillard said that she would ask Governor-General Quentin Bryce to order that parliament be dissolved on 12 August.

She said the announcement, eight months in advance, was "not to start the nation's longest election campaign" but to give "shape and order" to the year.

Ms Gillard leads a minority government that relies on independents.

In a lunchtime speech before the National Press Club in Canberra, the prime minister said the rare long run-up to the election would allow individuals, businesses and investors to plan ahead.

In making this unexpected announcement, Julia Gillard has relinquished one of the advantages of incumbency: the prerogative to select the election day but not reveal it until much closer to the time. Still, most expected the poll to come at the back end of the year, although no Australian prime minister has ever declared their intentions so early - 226 days beforehand.

Rather than embarking on the longest election campaign in history, Ms Gillard said that her intention was to allow businesses and consumers to better plan their year.

But no doubt she will be hoping that her announcement wrong-foots her main opponents: the conservative opposition leader Tony Abbott, and, to a lesser extent, the Labor prime minister she ousted, Kevin Rudd, who still harbours leadership ambitions.

Polls suggest repeatedly that her Labor minority government will be removed from office, even though Mr Abbott has struggled to win the affection of voters. As for a long, drawn-out election battle, Canberra has been in campaign mode pretty much since 2010's inconclusive federal election.

"It gives shape and order to the year, and enables it to be one not of fevered campaigning, but of cool and reasoned deliberation," she said.

"I can create an environment in which the nation's eyes are more easily focused on the policies, not the petty politics. I can act so Australia's parliament and government serves their full three-year-term."

The deadline for the election to be held was 30 November.

In determining which Saturday to choose in September, Ms Gillard also admitted that avoiding a clash with the Aussie rules grand final in Melbourne, one of the biggest sporting events of the year, was a major consideration, reports the BBC's Nick Bryant in Sydney.

The date clashes, though, with Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.

Poll gloom

The previous election was held in August 2010, two months after Ms Gillard ousted Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in a leadership challenge, becoming Australia's first female leader.

The election left both main parties short of a parliamentary majority. Ms Gillard, who leads the Labor Party, formed a government with the support of the Greens and independent legislators.

But she has struggled to win public support from an electorate with whom Kevin Rudd remains popular. When he launched a leadership challenge early in 2012, however, she secured a convincing win.

Opinion polls suggest that the opposition, led by Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott, would win an election if the polls were held now.

Ms Gillard said that with the poll date fixed, the opposition would be able to release full costings of its campaign pledges.

Mr Abbott, meanwhile, said the election "will be about trust".

"Who do you trust to reduce cost-of-living pressures? Who do you trust to boost small businesses and to boost job security? And who do you trust to secure our borders?" he said

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